Tennessee basketball has been producing talent for the NBA at an impressive rate in the last handful of years. Since 2019, Tennessee has sent five players to the league via the NBA Draft, which is the most players the Vols have sent in a three-year stretch since 1982-1984.
Tennessee’s five picks over that timeframe were Jordan Bone, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Jaden Springer, and Keon Johnson.
Additionally, three of Tennessee’s last five draft picks have been first-round players, with Kennedy Chandler also forecasting to go in the first round of the NBA Draft this summer.
Tennessee’s newest signee, Julian Phillips, is looking to add his name to that first-round list as well.
In an ESPN mock 2023 draft from earlier in May, analysts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz projected the then-undecided Phillips as the 15th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“On top of his quickness, length and leaping ability, Phillips’ shooting stroke is his most projectable NBA skill,” Schmitz wrote for ESPN. “He’s comfortable rising into catch-and-shoot jumpers off pin-downs and staggers, while also elevating in midrange spots with sharp footwork. With that said, he’s not all that physical of a finisher at this stage and is still searching for a more consistent defensive motor, despite having the tools to defend multiple perimeter spots and make plays off the ball. Overall, Phillips is one of the more intriguing non-lottery prospects in this class as he possesses several of the ingredients teams look for in an NBA wing.”
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Tennessee received a commitment from Phillips, the No. 12 overall player in the 2022 class, last week before officially signing the talented prospect on Monday.
If Chandler and Phillips both end up as first-round selections in the 2022 and 2023 NBA Drafts, respectively, it would be quite the achievement for Tennessee. Phillips would project as Tennessee’s fourth one-and-done NBA player in just three seasons.
Going back to the 2021 draft, Keon Johnson was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 21st overall pick, which was followed by the Philadelphia 76ers taking Jaden Springer with the 28th overall pick.
While a parade of one-and-done players hasn’t really ever been the style at Tennessee, it’s really just a tradeoff that you have to accept when recruiting at the level that Tennessee has been recruiting at. Take those four players for example – Kennedy Chandler, Julian Phillips, Jaden Springer, and Keon Johnson. In order, those players rank as Tennessee’s third, fourth, fifth, and sixth highest-rated recruits of all time, and they all came to Tennessee within a three-year stretch.
From the span on 1982 to 1984, Tennessee sent five former players to the league: Dan Federman (’84), Willie Burton (’84), Dale Ellis (’83), Gary Carter (’82), and James Ratliff (’82).
James Ratliff, though, had a fascinating story and was only at Tennessee for one season before transferring to Howard University. According to an article from 1978 in The Tuscaloosa News, Ratliff cited that he didn’t like the “social life” in Knoxville and that the media, or press, “couldn’t accept the fact that [Ratliff] wasn’t Bernard King.”
If you want to find the last time that Tennessee sent five players directly to the NBA Draft over a three-year period, you’ll have to go all the way back to 1969 through 1971. Over that period of time, Tennessee sent five players to the NBA: Bill Justus (’69), Billy Hann (’69), Bobby Croft (’70), Jim England (’71), and Don Johnson (’71).