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Vols Among Final Three for In-State Center

Tennessee already has three signees in their 2019 recruiting class, and they’re full on future scholarship players right now. But UT’s coaches are keeping their ears to the ground and their options open in case one of Tennessee’s underclassmen decide to declare early for the NBA Draft or if a player elects to transfer off the roster.

The Vols have a few prospects still on their board in the 2019 class, and one of them plays less than two hours south of UT’s campus.

Jason Jitoboh is a 6-foot-10, 270-pound center who plays for Hamilton Heights in Chattanooga. He’s been in contact with Tennessee’s coaches since 2017 and has kept the Vols as one of his top interests. He recently tweeted out his list of finalists in his recruitment, and Tennessee made the cut along with Florida and UCF.

According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Jitoboh is the No. 255 overall prospect and the No. 48 center in the 2019 cycle. He’s also the seventh-best player in the state of Tennessee per those rankings.

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Right now, it’s believed that most of the major conference schools interested in Jitoboh — primarily Tennessee and Florida — would want him to take a prep year after he graduates this spring and join their roster prior to the 2020-21 class. Either that, or he could join a team in the 2019 class and redshirt his first season on campus, but the prep year seems to be the more desirable option. It’s unknown whether or not UCF wants that option as well or if they’d be more willing to take Jitoboh up front as part of their 2019 class, but that’s certainly the discussion around most of the major conference schools looking at Jitoboh.

He may be fairly raw still, but it’s clear that there’s a lot of skill in Jitoboh’s game.

Jitoboh 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, assuming he can fit in well to the college game nowadays. His fit in modern college basketball may not be the best, but it’s clear he has a lot of raw talent. He needs to improve his overall defensive effort on a consistent basis, and he has some more technical skills to learn. But that will all come with time.

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 over the summer last year. He shot 70.7 percent from the field during that competition as well. As a senior this season for Hamilton Heights, Jitoboh averaged 8.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game according to MaxPreps. He shot 59.2 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 started 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 be a contributor at a major conference school.

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

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 he plays high school ball only about 90 minutes away from Knoxville.

The Vols will be losing center Kyle Alexander to graduation after this season ends, and they don’t have very many experienced big men on the roster to fill his place. Tennessee signed four-star 6-foot-9, 272-pound power forward DJ Burns in their 2018 class, and he’s used this season as a redshirt year. He seems the most likely candidate to take Alexander’s role, as 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman center Zach Kent hasn’t played any this year after redshirting last season due to injury. Tennessee also has 6-foot-9, 197-pound forward John Fulkerson who could play at the five, but he’s more suited at the four given his skill set. Sophomore Derrick Walker measures in at 6-foot-8, 236 pounds and is also an option.

Jitoboh’s next few months will be interesting to monitor. It’s clear that bigger programs like his upside, but he’s not ready to contribute in a meaningful way just yet. If he elects to take a prep year next season — much like what Jordan Bowden did a few years ago — then expect Tennessee to still be a major factor for him next year.

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