New Potential 2019 Target Emerges for Vols

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    (Photo via Doug McSchooler)

    Just when it looked like Tennessee’s roster was set for the 2019-20 season, there’s still a chance that things could change here in the coming months.

    Back in May, Tennessee’s coaches extended a scholarship offer to five-star center N’Faly Dante in the 2020 recruiting class. Even back then, it was reported that he was looking into reclassifying to the 2019 class. Now, not only is reclassification still on the table for Dante, but the Vols look like legitimate contenders for him.

    According to Jack Pilgrim of Kentucky Sports Radio, Dante told KSR that reclassification is “still possible” and that he’s focusing on four schools: Kentucky, Oregon, LSU, and Tennessee. That was followed up by a report from Grant Ramey of 247Sports that UT is working on getting Dante on campus for a visit soon.

    According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Dante is the No. 12 overall player, No. 3 center, and No. 1 player in the state of Kansas in the 2020 class. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound plays for Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kansas. He’s been a star for Sunrise Christian and has a reported wingspan of over seven feet.

    Dante has already taken official visits to the other three teams Pilgrim mentioned in his tweet. The five-star prospect used an official visit to Kentucky back on June 27th of this year, and he used his other official visits back in 2018 to Oregon and LSU, seeing the Ducks on October 12th and visiting the Tigers on October 19th.

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    Reclassifying to the 2019 class would mean Dante is immediately eligible to play for the 2019-20 season. If Dante stays in the 2020 class, then he won’t be able to join a collegiate roster until the 2020-21 season.

    As his rankings and measureables suggest, Dante is a true game-changing center. In fact, when I watch his film, I’m reminded a lot of a younger Dwight Howard.

    Dante has a major presence in the paint, and he’s an explosive play-maker. Yes, Dante can dunk and make some highlight plays as he skies for alley-oops, dunks, and blocks on defense, but he can also knock down jumpers, though that needs to be an area he works on more. Not only is he a force on offense, but he commands the paint on defense, too. His length helps him dominate on both ends of the floor.

    In the summer AAU circuit, Dante plays for MOKAN Elite, and he played with that squad during Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. His second year in the EYBL proved to be his best, as he was named a First Team All-EYBL player this year after averaging 14.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game in 21.5 minutes per game in 13 games. He shot 76 percent from the floor overall in those 13 games.

    In Nike’s Peach Jam event with MOKAN Elite, Dante averaged 18.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks while shooting 73.2 percent overall. He earned the second sessions’s Most Valuable Player award while helping MOKAN Elite to a 4-0 record.

    Tennessee currently has a scholarship spot open for their 2019-20 roster with the announced transfer of former four-star forward DJ Burns off the roster. Burns officially announced his transfer out of Tennessee’s program on Thursday, heading back home to Rock Hill, SC to play for Winthrop.

    If the Vols are able to land Dante and he reclassifies to the 2019 class, he would be a major boost to a frontcourt loaded with questions. Tennessee has five projected power forwards/centers on their roster, but only one has any sort of collegiate basketball experience. John Fulkerson, Zach Kent, Arizona State transfer Uros Plavsic, and 2019 signees Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua and Drew Pember are the only players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller on UT’s roster, and Plavsic still is waiting to hear back from the NCAA about his immediate eligibility waiver. Fulkerson is the only one of those players with any significant minutes logged in a season.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.