Rick Barnes is on the verge of signing arguably the best basketball class in program history.
Currently committed to the Vols is five-star shooting guard Keon Johnson and four-star small forward Corey Walker Jr. in the 2020 recruiting cycle. With Johnson and Walker currently in the boat, the Vols have the 15th-best recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports.
But with the possible addition of five-star shooting guard Jaden Springer — who could announce his college decision any day now — Tennessee would have the No. 4 overall recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports’ class calculator if Springer chooses the Vols.
While Barnes and the program await the decision of Springer, Johnson is creating a lot of hype himself. This past weekend, 84 of the best high school basketball prospects made their way to Colorado Springs, Colorado to the Olympic Training Complex to participate in practices and scrimmages for the USA Basketball U18 team. At USA Basketball’s October mini-camp, Johnson stood out above the rest.
The Bell Buckle, Tennessee native impressed so much that ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony mocked Johnson as the No. 13 overall pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in his 2021 mock draft.
“Johnson had the biggest breakout performance in Colorado Springs, earmarking himself as a potential lottery prospect despite being ranked in the Nos. 20-35 range by recruiting services,” Givony wrote. “Despite his relative lack of experience, he looked extremely comfortable playing against the best prospects, appearing nearly unstoppable in the open court, making a major impact defensively and showing glimpses of potential as a half-court creator and passer.
“Johnson had a strong case to be considered the best athlete here, as his ability to accelerate from a standstill and elevate off the floor in the blink of an eye for exhilarating finishes resulted in a number of highlight dunks and blocks. The aggressiveness and competitiveness he displays on both ends of the floor allows him to utilize this freakish explosiveness consistently.”
According to Givony, in order for Johnson to live up to the lofty expectation, he’ll have to continue to develop as a perimeter shooter — something Barnes has had experience developing. Tennessee’s fifth-year head coach has helped players such Kevin Punter, Jordan Bone, and Admiral Schofield improve their shooting mechanics.
Barnes’ ability to develop players for the next level is what stood out to Johnson, and that’s ultimately one of the biggest reasons the five-star committed to Tennessee.
“His shooting mechanics aren’t conventional, with a one-handed release that gets good rotation but tends to fall apart when he’s asked to shoot off the dribble,” Givony said. “In eight games in the Adidas Gauntlet this spring and summer, Johnson shot just 10-for-32 (24%) from 3 and 32-for-55 (58%) from the free throw line.”
With Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden graduating at the end of the season, Johnson is expected to play a large role in replacing the senior duo next season. In a dream scenario, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard will be doing so alongside Springer and current Vol Josiah-Jordan James in the 2020-21 season.