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Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
NOTE: Ben has been preparing for his wedding this week and will be on his honeymoon next week, so it’ll just be Nathanael answering questions this week and next week.
“With Pruitt clearly working hard in Marietta, GA to create a pipeline, how much will that benefit the Vols in the next 2-3 years?” – Luke
Nathanael: I think both there and Grayson High School, where Wanya Morris went, will be big for the Vols over the next few years. Both schools are going to have a lot of talent. Last year, Grayson was the school that had five or six FBS players. This year, it’s Marietta. Both look to have some talent in the 2021 class.
“Where do you think the Vols 2020 recruiting class will end up being ranked?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: I think that’s going to be dependent on how the season goes. There are several recruits who are wanting to see how the Vols look on the field this year before they make their commitment. I think, though, if Tennessee can go 7-5 or even 8-4 and look competitive against most if not all the teams they play, they have a real possibility of ending up with a top 10 or even top 5 class this year. Even if they go 7-5 or 6-6 and still get blown out by Alabama and Georgia and don’t look as competitive in one or two other contests, I still think they’re right on the border of a top 10 class and could still get one. As long as UT shows progress this year and show enough of it that elite level prospects feel that they can accomplish something in their 3-4 years on campus, they’ll land some top-100 prospects.
“What about our transfers? Are we ever going to hear from the NCAA?” – Joey
Nathanael: Your guess is as good as mine, Joey. With the NCAA saying they’re going to tighten down on granting immediate eligibility waivers, you have to think that’s bad news for Aubrey Solomon and Deangelo Gibbs in football and Uros Plavsic in men’s hoops. Barnes seems to think Plavsic will still get his waiver, so that might give you some reason for optimism. I’ll still believe it when I see it for the football players, though.
“How much will Jeremy Banks be used this year at RB?” – Jeremy
Nathanael: I would say quite a bit probably. He was being used a decent amount even as a true freshman until he started fumbling. He was averaging just over 8 carries a game through the Vols’ first 5 games, but he didn’t see the field again after the Georgia game until UT took on Charlotte.
Without Banks, Tennessee doesn’t really have a big, bruising back with the kind of hard-nosed mentality Banks has. If he can hold on to the ball, I expect him to get 6-8 carries a game most games.
“Pruitt, Barnes, Harper, the Weeklys, and Vitello are the head coaches of the Vols 5 major sports. Where do you see each of them in 5 years: still at Tennessee, fired, leave on own terms (retired/different job)?” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: Man, this is a tough question to answer on my own. Thanks for abandoning me, Ben.
But in all seriousness, let me take a stab at answering this one.
Pruitt: Still at Tennessee. I think he’ll have the Vols back to respectability, and I think the only job he leaves UT for is Alabama. Fortunately for UT (or perhaps unfortunately), I think Saban is still at Bama in 5 years.
Barnes: Retired. I think Barnes has signed his final contract with this latest raise and extension, and I think in 5 years the Vols will be looking for his replacement. I think UT will be in a pretty solid spot at that point, too.
Harper: Still at Tennessee. Even if Kellie Harper isn’t the answer for the Lady Vols, it’s hard for me to imagine her being let go in the next 5 years unless she just really bombs. Look how long Holly Warlick was kept around. I do think Harper has more success than Warlick, though.
Ralph and Karen Weekly: Still at Tennessee. Unless either of these two decide to retire in the next 5 years, it’s hard for me to imagine either or both of them not still being at UT. They’ve been the most consistently successful head coaches at UT since General Neyland or Pat Summitt, minus a national title.
Vitello: Still at Tennessee. Unless a prominent baseball program has an opening and comes in and offers Vitello a deal he can’t refuse, I think Phillip Fulmer will do what he can to hold on to him. They’ve already promised Vitello upgrades to Tennessee’s baseball facilities and have made him feel respected and listened to. Unless that changes in the next few years, I think Vitello is still around.
“What is your projected basketball starting lineup for next year?” – Jerry
Nathanael: This is tough to say right now without knowing the status of Uros Plavsic. If he gets granted immediate eligibility, I think he starts for sure. I would be a little surprised if he doesn’t. Turner and Bowden are for sure starting, and I think five-star Josiah Jordan-James does too. The question for me is who starts/plays the most minutes at the 3/4. UT has a lot of versatility in their lineup this upcoming season. They could put two bigs in at the same time in Plavsic and Zach Kent, or they could use John Fulkerson and DJ Burns at the four and have Plavsic or Kent play the five. You also have Yves Pons and Jalen Johnson at the three spot, and both will demand minutes if they can improve on their respective deficiencies. And don’t forget about four-star PF Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua.
Ultimately, I think Tennessee doesn’t have one set starting five this season. I think you’re going to see 3, 4, or maybe even 5 or 6 different starting lineups this season. You have a lot of new faces, so I don’t think the five guys who play the most minutes the first 5 games of the season will be the same once UT enters SEC play.
“What do you think about getting #1 baseball recruit? Is there a high probability he’ll go pro?” – @wsmows1
Nathanael: I assume you’re talking about the 2021 class here. Ben tweeted it out on Thursday that in Perfect Game’s updated rankings for the 2021 class, the Vols now have the top overall prospect committed to them in that class.
In baseball, it always feels like college coaches are punished for being good scouts. Tony Vitello and his staff identified this kid early, and now he’s at the top of his class. In baseball, players can go straight from high school to the MLB, so unless he has an injury or really wants a college education, I would be pretty surprised if he ends up at UT.