Rick Barnes Working to Sign Best Class in Tennessee History

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    With the commitment of five-star shooting guard Jaden Springer on Wednesday afternoon, Tennessee’s men’s basketball program now has commitments from three high-profile prospects in the 2020 class. And they still aren’t done.

    Springer joins fellow five-star Keon Johnson and four-star top-40 overall player Corey Walker as 2020 recruits to commit to Rick Barnes and his staff. Those three form a dynamic trio that rival the kinds of prospects Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas bring in on a yearly basis. But the Vols still need some size in this class, and they’ve zeroed in on 6-foot-10 center Dylan Cardwell out of Powder Springs, Georgia as the fourth and most likely final addition to the 2020 class.

    Even as the class stands right now, Tennessee’s 2020 class looks to be the best recruiting class on paper in UT’s history. At least since recruiting rankings have been around since 2003.

    According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, both Springer and Johnson are five-stars and are ranked inside the top 25 prospects in the 2020 cycle. Corey Walker was a five-star at one point, but even though he’s slipped some, he’s still a top-40 recruit and is the No. 36 overall player in the class.

    Right now, those highly-rated prospects have the Vols’ 2020 class ranked No. 4 in the entire country. The only teams with a higher-ranked recruiting class than Tennessee in the 2020 cycle on 247Sports are Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina. The Vols rank ahead of reigning national champion Virginia (5th), Florida (16th), Michigan (17th), Michigan State (21st), Gonzaga (22nd), and Kansas (42nd) to name a few other programs.

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    The three players currently committed to UT all rank as some of the highest-rated recruits in school history — assuming all three eventually sign with UT and keep their rankings.

    Per the 247Sports rankings, Springer, Johnson, and Walker are three of the nine highest-rated recruits to ever sign or commit to the Vols. Springer ranks third and only trails NBA star Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson. Johnson is right behind Springer at No. 4, and Walker ranks ninth, just behind Duke Crews and Ramar Smith and just ahead of Tyler Smith and Jordan McRae.

    Tennessee hasn’t had issues bringing in some highly-ranked prospects over the last decade-plus. The biggest problem for the Vols has been signing a collection of talented players in the same class. Tennessee has had plenty of one-off talents in various recruiting classes, but it’s been less common to see a group of impact players all come in at the same time.

    In terms of rankings on 247Sports, the Vols have never signed two five-stars in the same class, which they’re currently on track to do now. The closest UT has ever gotten to doing so came in 2006, 2008, and 2010.

    Back in 2006, Tennessee signed the No. 6 recruiting class on 247Sports, hauling in three top-50 prospects and another four-star in Marques Johnson along with three-star Josh Tabb. Duke Crews (No. 25), Ramar Smith (No. 32), and Wayne Chism (No. 41) headlined the class.

    Unfortunately for the Vols, that class would fail to live up to its billing — outside of Chism. Both Crews and Smith were dismissed from the program after two years as Vols. Crews finished his career averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 61 games while Smith averaged 9.1 points, 3.2 assists, and 2.8 rebounds in 71 appearances.

    Chism, meanwhile, is still remembered as one of the best players of the Bruce Pearl era. The versatile post player was a First Team All-SEC performer and averaged 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 142 career games. He’s one of a small handful of Vols to finish his career with 1,600 career points and 900 career rebounds.

    The 2008 class was also the No. 6 class on 247Sports, and it was headlined by five-star Scotty Hopson and top-70 small forward Renaldo Woolridge, but four-star center Philip Jurick redshirted his freshman year and ended up transferring to Chattanooga State before transferring again to Oklahoma State.

    Hopson enjoyed a solid UT career, earning First Team All-SEC honors in his junior season after averaging 17 points and 3.3 rebounds a game while shooting 37.6 percent from three. He finished his three-year career with over 1,300 points and a 35.4 percent clip from beyond the three-point line. Woolridge, meanwhile, never lived up to his top-100 potential, averaging 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds a game in 93 appearances.

    In 2010, the Vols signed five-star Tobias Harris and added four-stars Jordan McRae and Trae Golden along with him. That class ranked No. 12 in the country on 247Sports, and all three Vols ended up leaving their mark on UT’s program.

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    Harris was a one-and-done player for Tennessee who earned Freshman All-American honors. He was a first-round draft pick into the NBA and has been the Vols’ most successful pro player this decade. McRae spent all four years at Tennessee and was a First Team All-SEC wing. He averaged 13.3 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 34.3 percent from three in 114 career games. He nearly cracked the top 15 in school history in scoring by the time he graduated, totaling 1,521 points.

    Golden, meanwhile, played for Tennessee for three seasons before transferring to Georgia Tech in 2013. As a Vol, Golden averaged 9.7 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.4 rebounds a game in 96 games.

    On paper, the Vols’ 2020 class would be UT’s greatest recruiting haul in school history in the modern recruiting era. Tennessee has never signed two five-stars, and they’ve never signed three players all ranked inside the top 40 of the recruiting rankings. Many of the Vols’ best-looking recruiting classes haven’t panned out according to plan, but if there’s one thing most people don’t doubt about Rick Barnes, it’s his eye for talent and his ability to develop said talent.

    Tennessee’s 2020 class will have a lot of expectations to live up to, but they seem more than capable of doing so. And when it’s all said and done, this class could be the best signing class in school history.