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Vols Among Favorites for In-State Center

(Photo via The Times Free Press)

Tennessee will need to add a big body in either the 2019 or 2020 recruiting class in order to replace the departure of center Kyle Alexander after the 2019-20 season. And the Vols may be zeroing in on a raw but very talented player to take his place in the future.

Jason Jitoboh is a 6-foot-10, 270-pound center who plays for Hamilton Heights in Chattanooga. He’s originally from Nigeria and came to Tennessee when he was 14. His recruitment has blown up recently, and according to his AAU coach, the Vols are among his top five teams he’s trying to decide between.

Per an interview that Steve Cook, Jitoboh’s AAU coach, gave to 247Sports, Tennessee, Louisville, Florida, Arkansas, and Wake Forest are the five teams at the top of Jitoboh’s list.

Right now, Jitoboh is rated as a three-star prospect and the No. 189 overall player in the 2019 class according to the 247Sports rankings. Those rankings also have him as the 34th-best center in the class and the No. 7 player in the state of Tennessee. But he’s recently climbed up the rankings because of his performance over the summer, and that’s why he started drawing interest from other teams and picked up an offer from Louisville in mid-May.

Jitoboh just finished an unoffiical visit to Louisville last week, and he’s going to visit Tennessee on Monday of this week. He’ll then camp at Florida, and he’s trying to work out visits to Arkansas and Wake Forest as well.

His play reminds me a lot of a slightly bigger, more defensive-oriented version of D.J. Burns, the four-star center/power forward the Vols just got a commitment from in the 2018 class. At least that’s the feel I get from his highlight film.

He uses his big body to assert his will in the paint, and he has a variety of post moves to maneuver past defenders. He plays a more old school style of basketball offensively, and he does it well. He’s also a more than capable passer and can move well for his size. He’s very adept on the defensive side of the ball and is a true rim protector down low. Guards slashing inside to try and find an easy bucket won’t get one if Jitoboh is there guarding the basket. He’s physical inside and knows how to position himself to grab rebounds. With some more conditioning, he could be a double-double waiting to happen almost every night.

Per, Jitoboh averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in 7 games during Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League earlier this year. He shot 70.7 percent from the field during that competition as well. As a junior last season for Hamilton Heights, Jitoboh averaged 8.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game according to MaxPreps. He shot 59.9 percent from the floor.

When he first came to Hamilton Heights, Jitoboh was a huge, raw prospect from Nigeria. He weighed 340 pounds when he first started out in high school, and he’s since trimmed down to 270 pounds and continues to improve his conditioning even more. If he slims down a little more and continues to get in shape, he could rise up even more in recruiting rankings.

Not only were the Vols one of Jitoboh’s first offers back in June of 2017, but he has another connection to Tennessee as well.

Jitoboh is mentored by former NBA big man Dickey Simpkins, and Simpkins played for Rick Barnes at Providence from 1990-94. Jitoboh trained with Simpkins at his Next Level Performance training company, and that’s one reason Barnes knows about him. That and plays high school ball only about 90 minutes away from Knoxville.

The Vols currently have two commitments in the 2019 class. They just added in-state forward Drew Pember to their class on Friday, and three-star small forward Davonte Gaines has been committed since July of last year.

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