It’s been four years since Tennessee has had anyone drafted into the NBA, but that’s set to change this year. And it could change in a big way.
The Vols have four players who are eligible to be selected in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft, and three of them received invites to the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. Juniors Jordan Bone and Grant Williams and senior Admiral Schofield are all participating in this year’s combine, and all three could/should be drafted. Both Bone and Williams can remove their names from the draft pool by May 29th if they wish to return to UT for their senior seasons, but Schofield is a senior and can’t return.
Still, barring any sort of major injury during the combine and workouts, Tennessee is almost guaranteed to have at least one player drafted into the NBA this year, and they could have two or even three players taken.
When it comes to having draftable talent this year, the Vols are among some elite company in the college basketball world.
Tennessee is tied with eight other programs for the most players invited to the 2019 NBA Combine from one team. And all the other teams that had three players invited to the combine are some of the most recognizable names in college basketball.
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Michigan, and UCLA all had three players receive invites to the combine. Virginia, the team that won the national championship this year, also had three players invited to the combine.
Historically, Tennessee doesn’t compare to those programs in college basketball. Yet, here they are, with the same amount of players receiving invites to participate in the upcoming NBA Combine.
Not only do the Vols have the same number of players attending the NBA Combine as some of the top college basketball programs across the country, but UT’s invitees are even more impressive when you consider the expectations placed on them when they joined the Vols compared to the other players on the rosters of those blue blood programs.
With the exception of Gonzaga, almost all the other players from the programs mentioned above were four and five-stars coming out of high school. All three of Duke’s invitees were top-five players in high school, the three players from Kansas and Kentucky were rated inside the top-40 overall prospects, and all three of UCLA’s players were ranked inside the top-30 overall recruits in their respective classes. The three players from Michigan and Virginia who received invites were all top-100 players.
North Carolina is the only one of these blue blood programs — aside from Gonzaga — who doesn’t fit the bill. Nassir Little was the No. 3 overall player in his class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and Coby White was the 25th overall player. But Cameron Johnson, who originally signed on to play with Pittsburgh, was the No. 224 overall prospect in the 2014 class.
Then, there’s Tennessee.
All three of the Vols who received invites to the 2019 NBA Combine were ranked outside the top-150 prospects in their respective classes according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Jordan Bone was the highest-rated, coming in at No. 171 overall. Grant Williams was ranked No. 191 overall, and Admiral Schofield was outside the top-200, coming in at No. 251 overall.
Even Gonzaga has a top-150 overall prospect among their trio of invitees. Killian Tillie was the No. 123 overall recruit in his class, though both Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. weren’t rated by 247Sports during their recruitment.
Still, Tennessee’s three invitees are a rarity, and their presence at the NBA Combine is yet another testament to the hard work they put in while at UT and the ability of Tennessee’s coaches to identify talent and develop it.
The Vols stick out like a sore thumb when you look at the nine programs who got three players invited to this year’s NBA Combine. Every other program in that group has at least made it to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game, and all but Gonzaga has won at least one title in their program’s history. Tennessee, meanwhile, has never even made it to the Final Four and only has one Elite Eight appearance in school history.
Yet, there the Vols are, standing among the elite of college basketball when it comes to having draftable talent for the NBA.
And it’s not like all the other programs who got three players invited to the combine had much more success than Tennessee this past season. UCLA didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, Kansas got eliminated in the second round of the tournament, and North Carolina and Michigan were both eliminated in the same round as the Vols — the Sweet Sixteen. Duke and Kentucky only made it one round further than the Vols this year.
In fact, Virginia is the only team on this list that had significantly more success than the Vols in the 2018-19 season.
Tennessee has had high points in men’s basketball before, but having this amount of exposure with the NBA is something the Vols haven’t had in decades. The last time the Vols had more than one player taken in the NBA Draft was in 2014, and even then both players (Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes) were taken in the second round. The last time Tennessee had palpable buzz about two players potentially being drafted in the first round or within the top-40 overall picks was back in the 1970s with Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld.
This past season may not have ended quite how Vol fans wanted, but one thing is clear: What’s going on right now is a huge recruiting tool for Tennessee, and it’s elevating the basketball program to new heights of exposure.
Here’s a full list of the 66 players invited to the 2019 NBA Combine: