Tennessee’s men’s basketball program has been much more selective with who they’ve offered in the 2021 recruiting cycle. The Vols can be a little more picky after having a lot of success on the court in recent years and even more success on the recruiting trail.
Last week, head coach Rick Barnes sent out an offer to an elite four-star guard in the 2021 class, Jahmai Mashack. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound guard plays for Etiwanda in Rancho Cucamongo, California and has recently received more interest after bouncing back from an injury and posting a stellar junior season. Teams like Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisville, and Texas have all come calling for Mashack over the last three months.
But getting a call from Tennessee was something special for the four-star guard.
“Coach Barnes was the coach who called and offered. Obviously, to get a call from a legendary coach like him was big time,” Mashack said in a recent interview with RTI. “He personally talked about how much they would like for me to be a part of their family. Coach (Michael) Schwartz (Tennessee’s associate head coach) was the coach I talked to on a regular basis. He’s checked on me and my family during the protests and with the pandemic. Basketball has always been secondary to what’s going on with me as a person. Coach (Kim) English has also reached out.”
Mashack said he’s known about Rick Barnes for quite some time, and it was just a few years ago that Tennessee caught his eye as a basketball program. That was thanks, in large part, to the efforts of players like Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone leading UT to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons and lifting the Vols to No. 1 in the country for a month.
“I’ve known about Coach Barnes for awhile, but I started to learn about Tennessee two years ago,” Mashack explained. “I watched Schofield, Grant, and Bone a lot.
“I know (Tennessee is) all about character and player development. They get into people defensively, which I love, and they run an equal opportunity offense. I also know they don’t offer a lot of players at all.”
In Rick Barnes’ first few years as Tennessee’s head coach, the Vols couldn’t afford to be picky on the recruiting trail. When Barnes took over, he was the Vols’ third head coach in men’s basketball in three seasons, and his first two Vol squads went a combined 31-35 overall. Because of that, Tennessee offered 30 or more prospects in three of the four recruiting cycles between 2016-19.
But once UT found some success on the court and Barnes’ ability to develop players began to shine, the Vols were able to be more selective.
Tennessee offered just over two dozen recruits in the 2020 class, and they’ve been even more stingy with their offers in the 2021 cycle, giving out just over a dozen offers so far.
That total is more akin to what programs like Duke (8), North Carolina (9), Villanova (11), and Kentucky (6) have offered in the 2021 class so far.
Because of that, Mashack feels pretty special and like an actual priority for the Vols. He said that once recruits are allowed to visit campuses again, Tennessee will “definitely” be getting a visit from him.
At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Mashack fits the mold of a two-guard who can offer some versatility on offense and defense both. And that’s exactly what Tennessee is recruiting him as.
“Tennessee is recruiting me as a big guard,” Mashack said. “So, I try to use my strength and size to my advantage. Scoring in transition, my midrange, and my pull-up jumper is what I’m most comfortable with right now.”
Mashack will continue to work on his offense, but it’s his defense that has coaches vying for his commitment.
The four-star guard is considered one of the top defenders in the 2021 class regardless of position. He’s capable of defending multiple positions, and his head coach at Etiwanda, Dave Kleckner, is a legend on the west coast and values defensive above all else.
“I just take pride in every possession and look for tendencies in other players. I try to be a well-rounded defender, not just on-ball but off-ball and in transition,” Mashack said of his defense. “My dad always says you can never stop a great offensive player, but if I can make them earn every shot, then that’s what counts. I’m also versatile because of my length. So, I can guard multiple positions.”
Mashack was the only non-senior starter for Etiwanda last season, and all four of the other starters earned Division I scholarships. Kleckner, Mashack’s head coach, has coached the likes of Darren Collison and other future NBA players, so he knows talent when he sees it.
The talented junior earned that starting role despite suffering an injury last summer that derailed his recruitment.
In the summer of 2019, Mashack fractured his foot and missed out on the AAU circuit. Because of that, he didn’t get to show off in front of coaches in summer camps, making him miss out on a valuable time frame for rising juniors.
But once Mashack recovered from his injury, he proved why he was given a four-star rating.
Known more for his defense, Mashack still totaled 20 or more points in over half a dozen games as a junior and had several games with multiple steals and blocks. He earned Cal-Hi Second Team All-State honors in the highest division of high school basketball in his junior season as well.
For Mashack, getting healthy and picking up a lot of offers over the last handful of months isn’t something he’s taken for granted.
“I’m so blessed. I don’t take it for granted that these coaches are taking the time to get to know me and watching my game film,” Mashack stated. “I stayed at one school, Etiwanda, and I stayed with my local AAU team, Prodigy. I had to kinda do things the local grassroots way because I didn’t want to just leave. So coaches know I’m a team-first guy. It’s definitely paid off.”
Right now, Mashack is rated as the No. 66 overall prospect and No. 14 shooting guard in the 2021 cycle per 247Sports. Tennessee has been pursuing multiple five-stars in this cycle, but Mashack has certainly caught UT’s eye.
Unfortunately for the rising senior, he won’t be able to participate in the AAU circuit again this summer. This time, however, it’s not because of an injury; the current COVID-19 pandemic has canceled the summer camps and summer leagues this year.
In the meantime, Mashack is doing everything he can to stay in shape and prepare for the upcoming season, one that could be a big one for him.
“Thank God I’ve been able to get in workouts at a private gym several times a week,” Mashack explained. “I also run in the mornings and do a lot of body weight workouts. I’m trying to stay ready for whenever things open up.”