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    (Photo via Nicole Seitz/Gwinnett Prep Sports)

    Almost two weeks ago, Tennessee got a visit from Phillip Webb, one of the top linebackers in the 2020 recruiting cycle. Now, the talented prospect from Georgia has included the Vols as one of his top teams.

    Webb is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound linebacker who plays for Lanier down in Buford, Georgia. On Monday, he tweeted out his list of his top 11 schools moving forward, stating they are the schools he “would like to push my focus towards.” Tennessee was included along with Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, LSU, Notre Dame, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Florida State, and Stanford.

    According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Webb is the No. 40 overall prospect, No. 3 outside linebacker, and No. 6 player in the state of Georgia. He holds nearly four dozen scholarship offers, and his list of top 11 schools consists of some of the top teams in college football.

    The Vols extended an offer to Webb back on October 5th of 2018, and he visited UT when they played Alabama on October 20th. Tennessee offered Webb before Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Alabama did.

    Webb most recently visited the Vols back on June 8th, about a week and a half ago. He visited Alabama a few days before that, and he’s also unofficially visited Florida, Florida State, and LSU so far this year.

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    Tennessee hasn’t had much luck in Buford, Georgia in the past, but they were able to land linebacker Austin Smith out of Buford in the 2015 recruiting class. Smith was a three-star outside linebacker for Buford High School, but he has since transferred off UT’s roster.

    Webb is an athletic backer and a force on the edge. He excels as a speed rusher and consistently gets around tackles. His bend as a pass rusher is next level, and he knows how to finish when he gets to the quarterback. Webb is a very instinctual player. He is good in pass coverage and does a good job setting the edge on the run. He can close down space well and make tackles. With good coaching, he can be turned into a force as an every down outside linebacker.

    As a junior for Lanier, Webb had a monster season. He totaled 86 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 27 quarterback hurries, seven passes defended, four forced fumbles, a fumble he recovery for a touchdown, and three blocked punts in 14 games according to MaxPreps.

    Tennessee has made the state of Georgia a huge priority under head coach Jeremy Pruitt, and getting Webb to visit this summer was important. Now the Vols will need to get him back on campus in the fall and continue to build that relationship with him.

    Our Take:

    In order for the Vols to really surge in Webb’s recruitment, they’re likely going to have to show improvement in 2019. And not just slight improvement; If Tennessee has hopes of landing Webb this recruiting cycle, they’ll likely need to take some big steps forward.

    Pruitt and his staff have done a good job forging a relationship with Webb so far, but relationships can only take Tennessee so far for so long. This upcoming season will be important for UT’s hopes with Webb and other top prospects.



      (Photo via Brad Vest/Commercial Appeal)

      The Vols got a visit from one of the top prospects in the state of Tennessee a week ago. Now, he’s included UT among his list of finalists in his recruitment.

      Omari Thomas is a four-star offensive/defensive lineman in the 2020 class who plays for Briarcrest Christian in Memphis. Back on Christmas, Thomas released a list of his top 12 schools. On Monday of this week, following his visit to UT’s campus last weekend, he trimmed that list down to six schools and labeled them as his finalists. Tennessee made the cut along with Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Arkansas.

      According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman is the No. 93 overall player, No. 8 defensive tackle, and No. 4 player in the state of Tennessee. Despite being listed as an offensive lineman on some recruiting services, it’s believed he’ll play defensive tackle in college.

      Thomas spent the weekend of June 9th visiting Knoxville, and he also received a visit from Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley back in mid-April. His visit to campus a week ago was his first trip to UT’s campus since October of last year. He also unofficially visited Tennessee in June of 2018.

      Along with his visit to Tennessee, Thomas has also visited Arkansas, Auburn, and Alabama in 2019 so far.

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      Thomas is a fast player, and he’s athletic for his size. He uses his hands well to create leverage and separate, and he’s a solid tackler. He will, however, need to work on his pad level. He is consistently much higher than his opposition, and his base isn’t always ideal. He will need to correct both of those issues to better utilize his strength. He is also a little soft at the point of contact sometimes. He does a good job once he makes contact of using his hands and strength to win, but he needs to improve his game at the initial point of contact. Overall, though, he has a very high ceiling.

      Thomas does bring a very unique element to his game: He is a very solid pass rusher. Thomas will likely play defensive tackle, and if somebody his size can provide a pass rushing presence on the interior of the line, it provides the defense with an extra element to utilize.

      Thomas is a very talented football player, and this past season he was a finalist for the Mr. Football award for a lineman in the state of Tennessee. As a defender, he had 54 solo tackles and another 23 assists. He had 13 tackles for a loss and sacked the quarterback 11 times. Thomas also forced two fumbles and returned one of them for a touchdown.

      The Vols currently have just one defensive tackle committed to them in their 2020 class, and that’s four-star Dominic Bailey.

      Our Take:

      Thomas getting back to campus a week ago really helped Tennessee get back into the thick of things in his recruitment. It had been over seven months since Thomas had been on UT’s campus before his recent visit. Now that he’s had a chance to come back to Knoxville and meet with Tennessee’s coaches again, the Vols are right back in it with him.

      There’s still a long way to go with Thomas, but Tennessee is better positioned now than they were a month or so ago. If UT can get him to come back in the fall, then they’ll continue to be a major player for the talented in-state lineman.



        Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

        Tennessee has three players consistently being projected to be taken in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft this week. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are viewed as definite picks in the two-round draft, while point guard Jordan Bone is seen as a fringe prospect who is just as likely to be drafted as undrafted.

        According to some NBA scouts and front office executives, however, Bone might have the largest upside of any of UT’s NBA prospects and could surprise people.

        Seth Davis of The Athletic interviewed several NBA scouts and front office executives and offered them anonymity in exchange for their candor on dozens of NBA prospects. The result? Davis’ own creation of “Finch,” the amalgam of those scouts and front office executives.

        Let davis explain.

        “He is not a person, per se, but an amalgam of six NBA scouts and front-office executives whom I asked to weigh in on 50 former U.S. collegians hoping to have their name called Thursday night,” Davis writes. “After conducting the interviews, I selected the most insightful and relevant quotes and merged them into one paragraph that reads as if it came from a single person called Finch.”

        According to “Finch,” Bone has a lot of upside but will need some development. But at least one of the scouts and executives that Davis interviewed views Bone as a potential late first-round pick based off his athleticism and potential.

        “Freak athlete. He was one or two in every combine testing. He’s going to surprise some people,” says “Finch” about Bone. “Great upside. Rick Barnes is really tough on his point guards, and this kid got through it and survived and got better. It wouldn’t shock me if he goes late first round. His feel and decision-making and knowing the position will take some time. He needs to continue to improve as a shooter. I think toward the end of the season he was playing more for the NBA than for his team. He wasn’t looking for people as much.”

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        Bone had a breakout junior campaign with the Vols this past season. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Nashville native set a school record and posted career-highs in almost every major category in the process.

        In 37 games for the Vols this season (all starts), Bone averaged 13.5 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds while making 46.5 percent of his overall shots and 35.5 percent of his attempts from three. He also connected on 83.5 percent of his free throws.

        Bone set the school record for best assist-to-turnover ratio in a single season with a 2.91 mark on the year. His 215 assists during the season finished as the third-most in a single season in program history.

        But to “Finch’s” point about Bone looking more towards the NBA rather than helping his own team down the stretch, there is certainly some validity to that from a statistical standpoint.

        In Bone’s first 26 games of the season, he was averaging 13.2 points and 6.5 assists while attempting 10.7 field goals per contest. But over the final 11 games of Tennessee’s 2018-19 season — including the Vols’ three SEC Tournament and three NCAA Tournament games — Bone averaged 14.0 points and just 4.2 assists while attempting 11.0 field goals a game. Bone had six or more assists just three times in UT’s final 11 games of the year, and he didn’t reach that mark in the Vols’ final five games. He eclipsed the six assist mark 16 times in the first 26 games of the season.

        Still, Bone put together one of the best overall seasons of any point guard in UT history, and his exceptional testing at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine really caught the attention of NBA scouts and executives.

        Bone finished with the best time in both the lane agility test and the shuttle run. He also posted the best standing vertical leap measurement and finished second in the max vertical jump test. He was also the only player to make 100 percent of his shots during the break left portion of the shooting drills.

        “Finch” was very complimentary of Tennessee’s two other draft prospects as well, praising Admiral Schofield’s leadership and physicality and lauding Grant Williams’ basketball IQ and work ethic. To read what he had to say about those two, check out the full article on The Athletic.

        The 2019 NBA Draft will take place on Thursday, June 20th in Brooklyn, New York. It will be televised on ESPN starting at 7:00 PM Eastern.



        Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

        This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little

        With the 2019 NCAA College World Series well underway in Omaha, Nebraska, some Vol fans reminisce about Tennessee campaigns in the postseason. Others focus on announcements regarding UT football scheduling and what those announcements meant in years prior. But, no matter the sport, Tennessee faithful keep Vols, past and present, in mind during summer months.

        In recent years, Tennessee has lost notable individuals who shaped UT athletics forever during the month of June. Last week, SEC Network celebrated what would have been legendary coach Pat Summitt’s 67th birthday with a lineup of programming central to one of Tennessee’s favorite daughters and one of the nation’s most formidable coaches. Summitt died on June 28, 2016 following complications related to early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly two years later, “Voice of the Vols” John Ward died at age 88 on June 20th.

        Remember those Vols and more in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

        June 17, 1951

        Omaha’s Morning World-Herald headline read “6,290 See Oklahoma Clip Vols for College Baseball Title, 3-2.”

        In its first program trip to Omaha, Tennessee finished second in the nation to the College World Series champion Sooners, letting a 2-0 lead slip away in a finals loss. Holding the lead until the fifth inning, the Vols watched their national title hopes slide as Sooners rounded the bases for single runs in the sixth, seventh, and eight innings.

        “The Cinderella team almost made it,” reporter Robert Phipps wrote in his recap. “That would have been a great news story. But Tennessee, which seemed to lead a charmed life in the College World Series, finally ran out of luck Sunday night at Muny Stadium.”

        UT outfielder Bill Asbury tallied two of three hits in the match-up. Asbury, who was born in Powell, Tennessee, and later resided in Alcoa, served as a colonel in the Tennessee Air National Guard at McGhee Tyson airbase for 30 years following his time in Knoxville. The 1951 College World Series Most Outstanding Player, Sid Hatfield, pitched eight innings of relief in the loss. In those eight innings, he walked eight Oklahoma batters, the third-most walks in a championship game.

        Earlier in the week, Oklahoma pitcher James Waldrip had walked 15 against Springfield. Somehow, the Sooners escaped with an impressive 7-1 win to advance and later claim the title.

        “They didn’t hit me much. I pitched a two-hitter,” Waldrip said at an OU alumni weekend nearly four decades later, as reported by the Oklahoman. “But walking 15 men…that’s why coach Baer has so many gray hairs.”

        Prior to the tournament, Tennessee claimed the Southeastern Conference title, earning a 16-1 record in the regular season. The Vols would not return to Omaha until 1995, 44 years after the program’s first appearance.

        June 18, 2009

        Multi-decade sports droughts remain commonplace among college teams, whether they be time between postseason appearances or years between team match-ups. Ten years ago, Chick-fil-A Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan sought to end one such drought, choosing Tennessee and N.C. State University to open the 2012 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The two teams had not met since 1939.

        At the time, Lane Kiffin had just assumed the title of head coach at Tennessee following current Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer’s last season as head coach. Few might have guessed that Kiffin would not be at the helm when the Vols and Wolfpack finally met on the gridiron three years later.

        “This regional rivalry game will feature an ACC program with one of the conference’s brightest futures under a proven Tom O’Brien against a traditional SEC power led by new head coach Lane Kiffin,” UT Sports representatives wrote in the announcement via utsports.com. “The game is expected to air nationally on ESPN Sept. 1, 2012.”

        Kiffin looked forward to the match-up saying, “We are excited to be a part of what should be a great environment to kick off the 2012 season. Atlanta is a great sports town and the Georgia Dome has been great for college football.”

        But Kiffin would not be in Atlanta, Georgia, at kickoff. Instead, he prepared for a 7-6 season at the University of Southern California, having left Tennessee after only one season.

        Ironically, Kiffin’s one season at Tennessee ended with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which Tennessee lost 37-14 to Virginia Tech on Dec. 31, 2009. The Hokies had faced Alabama in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game on Sept. 5, losing 34-24.

        June 20, 2018

        Broadcasters and their calls become as synonymous with college teams as the players and coaches they follow. Larry Munson at the University of Georgia, Woody Durham at North Carolina, and Rod Bramblett, the “Voice of the Auburn Tigers,” who died tragically earlier this year, are all examples.

        And there’s John Ward.

        One year ago this week, the “Voice of the Vols” spoke no more, leaving a deafening silence in broadcast booths across the south. Ward, who called more than 350 consecutive football games and nearly 1,000 basketball games for Tennessee, died June 20, 2018 at age 88.

        For more than three decades, Ward detailed the victories and defeats of Tennessee basketball and football, one play at a time, down to the last roll around the rim or yard earned.

        “John Ward brought life and feeling to our living rooms as he colorfully told the story of each play,” Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer said at a memorial ceremony one week following Ward’s death. “We all know that he was absolutely the greatest broadcaster of all time and our ‘Voice of the Vols.’”

        Ward called plays devised by four football coaches, including Fulmer, during his 30-plus seasons in Neyland Stadium. Volunteer fans often echo his catchphrases, yelling “give him six” when the Vols score a touchdown and remembering the night “pandemonium [reigned].”

        The owner of his own advertising agency and production company, Ward followed his passions instead of his professional preparation to build his career. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1954, but his voice announced the players coming off the bench rather than arguments before the bench.

        His voice resonates through Tennessee history and likely will for years to come.



          (Photo via Hunter Price/The Daily Times)

          The Vols have a big need at running back in the 2020 recruiting cycle, and they’ve targeted several prospects at that position in this class. Tennessee doesn’t need to look any further than their own backyard for some help out of the backfield, though, and that in-state back has included the Vols as one of his top teams following a visit to campus this weekend.

          Tee Hodge is a bruising and talented running back who plays for Maryville High School. He took an unofficial visit to UT’s campus this weekend, and he tweeted out his list of top nine schools coming off that trip to Knoxville. Tennessee was included in his list along with Michigan, Penn State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Oregon, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and Purdue.

          According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Hodge is the No. 606 overall prospect, No. 45 running back, and No. 21 player in the state of Tennessee. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound bruiser holds nearly two dozen scholarship offers and should get plenty of attention during his senior year.

          As a junior, Hodge ended up suffering an injury in the postseason for Maryville, otherwise his stock might be even higher. Even coming off that injury, he’s picked up five offers in 2019 alone, including four of the teams in his top nine (Penn State, Ole Miss, Oregon, and Arkansas).

          Hodge attended a Junior Day event on UT’s campus back in January, and he also visited Alabama and Florida State for Junior Day festivities. He made an unofficial visit to Purdue back in late March, and his trip to Tennessee’s campus this past weekend marked his seventh trip to Knoxville in the last year.

          On the field, Hodge has a very unique blend of skills. He’s a force out of the backfield and easily trucks defenders if they try to tackle him one-on-one. Hodge is more than just a bulldozing back, though; he has some pretty incredible speed for his size, and his athleticism is very rare. He has solid vision and really good balance as well. He keeps his legs churning after contact, and he looks like a pain to try and bring down. His highlight film even shows off his ability as a lead blocker, something you don’t see on most running back’s highlight films. But Hodge is effective as a blocker, further adding another dimension to his game.

          Before an injury caused him to miss part of the playoffs for Maryville, Hodge totaled 805 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on 131 carries. He also added 17 receptions for 175 yards and a score, giving him nearly 1,000 total yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns.

          There’s a thought that Hodge could even play linebacker in college, but most schools seem to be pursuing him as a running back.

          Our Take:

          Hodge is a definite take for Tennessee, and he should garner even more attention this fall as long as he bounces back from his injury well. The only thing to watch out for with Hodge is if some other teams come calling. Florida State and Alabama will be two teams to keep an eye on. If either of those teams offer Hodge, then they could become instant players with him.

          Barring that, the Vols seem to be in a good position with Hodge right now.



            (Photo via The Associated Press)

            This weekend, Tennessee hosted the top name on the grad transfer market in men’s basketball. By all accounts, the visit went well, and now the Vols are being called one of the projected finalists for his services.

            Virginia Tech grad transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. has already visited Florida and Arkansas, and he arrived on UT’s campus on Friday to begin an official visit in Knoxville. He’s reportedly been considering taking a visit to Lexington to check out Kentucky, and Texas A&M has reportedly been in the mix for Blackshear’s services as well. There have also been recent reports that Memphis is trying to get into the battle for Blackshear.

            One prominent national writer isn’t buying the Memphis hype, though. And he thinks UT is one of three schools most likely to land Blackshear once it’s all said and done.

            Chris Dortch is the editor for Blue Ribbon College Basketball and is a contributor for NBA.com and NBA TV. He’s also an adjunct professor at UT-Chattanooga. According to him, Blackshear’s final choices will come down to Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Kentucky.

            The 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward/center announced his decision to transfer off Virginia Tech’s roster after head coach Buzz Williams left to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M this offseason. There’s a chance that Blackshear could return to Virginia Tech for his final season, and Texas A&M has also been involved with him since they now have his head coach from the Hokies. Dortch believes that the Aggies have done enough already to be considered one of Blackshear’s top teams.

            Neither Kentucky nor Texas A&M have gotten an official visit from Blackshear yet, but it’s very possible he schedules a visit to one or both of those schools in the coming days.

            Blackshear put his name in the 2019 NBA Draft pool and went through the whole draft process, much like Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Jordan Bone. But unlike Williams and Bone, Blackshear withdrew his name from the draft pool and elected to come back to college for one more season.

            Now, he’s the hottest name on the transfer market.

            Last season, Blackshear averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three, and 73.6 percent from the free throw line in 35 games. Blackshear was named a Second-Team All-ACC performer for the Hokies.

            Blackshear was second on the team in points per game and first in rebounds per game for Virginia Tech this past season. He also led the team in total blocks with 27. Blackshear’s efforts helped lead Virginia Tech to the most wins in a single season in program history, and the Hokies reached only their second Sweet Sixteen ever in school history.

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            In Virginia Tech’s three NCAA Tournament games against Liberty, St. Louis, and Duke, Blackshear averaged 17.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. During the season, Blackshear eclipsed the 20-point mark seven different times and recorded nine double-doubles. He has 13 career double-doubles.

            Blackshear is considered one of the best passing big men in college basketball, and he racked up four or more assists in nine games this season. He was actually third on the team in assists per game, finishing behind guards Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

            Right now, the Vols have all of their scholarship spots full for the upcoming 2019-20 season. That means that in order for Tennessee to add Blackshear — if he does, indeed, choose the Vols — someone off the current roster would have to transfer.

            Tennessee has already had one player transfer off the team this offseason. Forward Derrick Walker announced his decision to transfer to Nebraska last month. The Vols also lost starting center Kyle Alexander and starting forward Grant Williams to the NBA Draft, leaving their frontcourt with a lot of holes and questions.

            The Vols are right at the 13 scholarship limit for the 2019-20 season after signing four players in their 2019 recruiting class and adding two transfers this offseason. Tennessee signed five-star guard Josiah Jordan-James, four-star forward Olivia Robinson-Nkamhoua, three-star forward Drew Pember, and three-star small forward Davonte Gaines in their 2019 signing class, and the Vols also brought in Arizona State center Uros Plavsic and Oregon guard Victory Bailey Jr. as transfers.