Vols are “Dark Horse” for No. 1 Recruiting Class in 2020 Cycle

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee has never finished with a top five recruiting class in men’s basketball in the modern recruiting era, let alone the No. 1 overall class. But there’s a chance both of those could no longer be true after the 2020 cycle comes to an end.

    The Vols currently have one of the top recruiting classes in the country in the 2020 cycle. With two five-stars committed to them in Keon Johnson and Corey Walker, Tennessee has nabbed the No. 2 overall spot on Rivals.com and currently have the No. 6 recruiting class in the 2020 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

    While Johnson and Walker are one of the most elite duos in the 2020 class, Tennessee likely isn’t done adding premier talent to their current recruiting class. And that could result in the top overall class this cycle.

    In a piece looking at which team could end up with the No. 1 class in 2020, Dan McDonald of Rivals called Tennessee a “dark horse” to end up with the highest-ranked class among every other men’s basketball team.

    “Rick Barnes has done a terrific job building Tennessee back into a national power and has the Volunteers right behind Duke at No. 2,” McDonald said. “With the recent addition of five-star shooting guard Keon Johnson (No. 17), to go along with five-star forward Corey Walker (No. 24), this class has real staying power near the top of the rankings. Five-star guard Jaden Springer (No. 12) is another five-star who could end up in Knoxville and the Volunteers are also right there for four-star big men P.J. Hall (No. 67) and Dylan Cardwell (No. 115). Keep an eye on how Tennessee closes here as the Vols could be a dark horse for No. 1 overall.”

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    According to Rivals’ rankings, the Vols have signed multiple five-stars in a class only once since 2003, and that came in 2006 when Tennessee signed both Duke Crews and Ramar Smith, two five-stars in Rivals’ recruiting rankings that year.

    While Rivals has only started compiling overall team rankings in men’s basketball over the last couple years, 247Sports has kept track of the top team classes in men’s basketball recruiting since 2003. The highest the Vols have ever come in those rankings has been sixth, doing so both in 2006 and 2008. Tennessee has never finished inside the top five in team recruiting rankings over the last decade-plus.

    But with the Vols off to a stellar start so far, it’s not hard to imagine Tennessee having one of the best classes in the 2020 cycle. Especially when you consider who else could be added to the class.

    Tennessee already has two five-stars committed to them, but they’re legitimate contenders for another. Five-star guard Jaden Springer included the Vols as one of his five finalists back in July, and he’s expected to come to campus on an official visit during a Tennessee home football game. Springer is the No. 12 overall prospect in the 2020 class.

    Springer isn’t the only elite prospect left on UT’s board, though. They are also major players for four-star power forward PJ Hall and have a strong relationship with borderline four-star center Dylan Cardwell. Tennessee is also a contender for four-star guard Matthew Murrell out of Memphis, though they have a better shot with Hall and Cardwell. Four-star forward Samson Ruzhentsev out of Hamilton Heights in Chattanooga is also someone on Tennessee’s list.

    The Vols have never signed three prospects rated as five-stars in a single recruiting class in men’s basketball in the modern recruiting era. Tennessee’s 2006 class saw UT bring in their largest haul of on-paper talent in the modern era when they signed four players rated as four-stars or better. According to 247Sports, Duke Crews (No. 25), Ramar Smith (No. 32), and Wayne Chism (No. 41) were all top-50 prospects, and Marques Johnson (No. 112) was another four-star prospect. Johnson, however, would only appear in four games at Tennessee and wound up transferring to NC State and then again to Georgia State. Crews and Smith ended up getting dismissed from the team in 2008, leaving only Chism from that group of highly-rated signees in the 2006 class.

    While Tennessee doesn’t have a history of bringing in a lot of talent all at once, head coach Rick Barnes is no stranger to it.

    From 2004 through 2011, Barnes signed multiple five-stars in a class at Texas on four different occasions, and his Longhorns finished with a top-five recruiting class four different times in that span. Some of the five-stars who signed with Barnes at Texas in that span include Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Avery Bradley.

    The 2020 cycle is a long ways from being finalized, but the Vols are among the elite in college basketball on the recruiting front right now. And it doesn’t look like they’ll be going away this cycle.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    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.