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Vols in Top 5 for No. 1 In-State Prospect

(Photo via Chris Siers/The Times-Gazette)

Tennessee’s coaches for the men’s basketball program are focusing heavily on trying to land a couple big time prospects in the 2019 recruiting class, but they’re also spending a lot of time scouting and working to land some elite players in the 2020 class too. And one of their top targets in next year’s cycle is really liking what he’s seeing and hearing from the Vols so far.

Keon Johnson is an elite, four-star guard who plays for The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The Vols offered him back in April, and his recruitment has blown up this summer. When the Vols offered him, he just had offers from Ole Miss, Wake Forest, MTSU, and Florida International. He now holds offers from Florida, Virginia, Auburn, and Virginia Tech among others. He’s vaulted up to the No. 35 overall player in the 2020 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and he’s easily the top player in the state of Tennessee in the 2020 cycle.

And according to his summer league coach, Johnson is high on the Vols.

Mark Griffin, a former Vol basketball player himself, coaches Johnson over the summer as his EAB travel coach. He appeared on the Tony Basilio Show on Friday to discuss summer league action for players in the state of Tennessee, and he was asked about Johnson’s recruitment. And according to Griffin, Johnson is heavily considering the Vols.

“I do include Tennessee in the top five,” Griffin stated. “This is just based on my opinion, this has not been quoted by Keon. This is just based on the relationships that I’ve built and that I know are calling his family and texting and calling him. I would include the following: UT, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Auburn, and I’ll throw a wildcard in there in Virginia.”

Griffin would go on to add that Vanderbilt “got a little bit of a jump from the get go” over Tennessee with Johnson, but later added that he doesn’t think Johnson has a leader in his recruitment. Johnson did recently visit Knoxville at the end of June and has kept in touch with UT’s coaches.

Tennessee was one of the earliest offers for Johnson, but according to Griffin, that doesn’t matter as much in recruiting elite prospects unless the school is the very first offer for a recruit.

“Coaches get more excited about when they give you an offer and saying ‘we’re one of your first offers’ and they make that a bigger deal,” Griffin added. “But when you’re a rising junior, and I’ve learned this just from being around Keon…it’s not as big a deal when the offer came unless it’s the first. That’s why I mentioned Ole Miss. Kermit Davis was the first to offer him when he was at MTSU, and he’s maintained the relationship with his family.

“Things can change, but it boils down to relationships.”

Tennessee’s coaches have consistently been watching Johnson play this summer, and it’s usually been one of the Vols’ assistants attending Johnson’s games. But head coach Rick Barnes has made it to see Johnson as well. Barnes and his staff have been focusing a lot on 2019 prospects Tre Mann and C.J. Walker this summer, but they’ve made sure that Johnson and fellow elite 2020 guard Jaden Springer know they’re still paying attention to them too.

Johnson, who measures in around 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, is a tremendous defender and has a knack for picking off passes and blocking shots. He uses his defense to fuel his offense, and he has a variety of ways he can score. Johnson can nail threes, hit pull-up jumpers, drive in the lane, and has some post moves as well. He needs to improve his passing if he’s to truly work out as a point guard and not more of a shooting or combo guard, but overall he’s a very well-rounded player with an extremely high ceiling.

As a sophomore last year, Johnson averaged 25.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.6 steals, and 1.5 blocks a game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field according to MaxPreps. He also earned Tennessee’s Division II Class A Mr. Basketball award for his performance this past season.

If Tennessee were to add Johnson in their 2020 class, he would be the highest-rated player Rick Barnes has picked up since taking over at Tennessee. The Vols need players like Johnson in the future if they’re to continue to have success, and Tennessee has to like where they are with him right now. But competition for Johnson will be fierce, and UT’s coaches will have their hands full trying to land the elite guard.

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