Just four days after receiving a commitment from five-star wing Julian Phillips, the Tennessee Volunteers have officially signed the elite prospect on Monday.
Phillips was originally an LSU recruit up until the firing of head coach Will Wade in March. After Phillips reopened his recruitment, Tennessee was one of many teams that dove in to get a word with the talented recruit. Prior to his announcement, Phillips’ final recruiting list was down to five schools and two professional organizations: Auburn, Florida State, South Carolina, USC (Cali.), Tennessee, Overtime Elite, and the NBA G-League Ignite.
The Blythewood, South Carolina native credited Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes with being a significant factor in his decision to sign with Tennessee. After making his announcement on CBS Sports HQ last week, Phillips immediately pointed to Barnes as a key player in the last two months of his recruitment.
“Rick Barnes, he has a history with great wings,” Phillips said on CBS Sports HQ last Thursday. “He’s a great coach. Tennessee won the SEC Championship last year so they’re a hot team right now. And then coach Barnes is just a great guy overall. I have a great relationship with him. He talks to me about a lot of things. Basketball, but non-basketball related like our faith in Jesus Christ and things like that. He’s a great guy and I would be happy to play for him.”
In a statement made through Tennessee on Monday, Barnes echoed the sentiment that Phillips shared last week, speaking about the relationship that was built between them.
“First of all, we love Julian and his family,” Barnes said via the Tennessee press release. “He has the type of character and humility that we value in our program.”
With a frame of 6-foot-8, 200-pounds, Phillips can be a mismatch for opponents with the size of a power forward playing on the wing. Ranked as the No. 12 player in the class of 2023 according to 247 Sports at Link Academy in Missouri, Phillips’ versatility on the offensive end of the court has made him a standout recruit in the class. Phillips has the ability to both drive the ball into the paint and shoot from the outside while also being transcendent in transition offense.
“Basketball-wise, his versatility and ability to impact the game in so many different ways is special,” Barnes said. “Julian [Phillips] is a three-level scorer, which is extremely valuable in our system. Defensively, we’re very excited about his combination of length and athleticism, as it enables him to effectively guard multiple positions. We expect Julian to blend into our current team nicely and make an immediate impact.”
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Immediate impact isn’t always a common phrase in the Rick Barnes era but has become more prevalent as recruiting has risen in the last few seasons.
Let’s just look at the last three recruiting classes for Rick Barnes and Tennessee. According to 247, the last three recruiting classes in Knoxville have produced the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-highest ranked recruits in Tennessee basketball history with Kennedy Chandler, Julian Phillips, Jaden Springer, and Keon Johnson filling those spots respectively.
While they did begin the season on the bench, former Tennessee freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer did each make their first start by the tenth game of the shortened 2020 season. Both players wound up making an impact for Tennessee and found themselves as first-round draft picks after one year of college.
Kennedy Chandler began the season as Tennessee’s starting point guard last year and did not give up that spot all season. In addition, Barnes also slotted freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield into Tennessee’s starting lineup after an injury and eventually won an SEC Tournament Championship with two freshmen in the starting five. Freshman point guard Zakai Zeigler was also a crucial piece to Tennessee’s team as he slowly became a rallying figure for the Vols’ fanbase.
As he has always done, Barnes will make his players earn their minutes through practice reps that eventually could lead to a spot in the starting lineup. However, that has traditionally been a role that’s filled by Tennessee’s most elite recruits, which Julian Phillips does certainly count as.
If Tennessee returns their key veterans who are currently exploring the NBA Draft, Tennessee’s lineup will likely consist of Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler, and Olivier Nkamhoua for certain. A handful of guys could fill that fifth spot, especially if Barnes wants to begin the season with veteran experience rounding out the five. However, with the talent that Phillips brings to the table, the five-star prospect is almost certainly a player that could wind up in that fifth spot once things start rolling.
At the end of the day, there’s still an unreasonable amount of time to project Tennessee’s starting lineup and bench rotation before next season. But regardless, there’s no question that Tennessee will expect a significant impact from their newest recruit Julian Phillips.