There’s not much to complain about with Tennessee basketball these days. Fresh off one of the best seasons in team history, the Volunteers just signed the program’s best recruiting class since James Naismith started throwing stuff at the ground and seeing what would pop back up.
Two 5-star guards and another top-50 player puts Tennessee’s class at 4th nationally and 2nd in the SEC. Fans will have to wait a little bit to see them actually take the court, but make no mistake: this is the type of class that gets people talking, if they aren’t already.
You’ve read the names, you’ve seen the stars, and now it’s time to learn about what each member of the vaunted 2020 class brings to Tennessee basketball.
5-star SG Jaden Springer
The highest rated signee comes in at 16th nationally and 4th in the position according to 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Springer brings a scoring ability that Tennessee witnessed with the recently drafted Jordan Bone. He can score at all three levels and looks comfortable at every range. If there’s a player to become the go-to scoring option down the road, it’s someone like Springer. His game isn’t necessarily fluid—but it’s efficient, and he clearly has a knack for creating his own opportunities.
He also possesses a “hidden” athleticism of sorts. Obviously he displays some of it with regularity, but I’m mainly talking about plays like rebounds or breakaway opportunities. Springer has a bounce that looks like he’s in zero gravity, allowing him to snatch the ball away from clearly bigger defenders, which also helps in the put-back opportunities. He isn’t just a scorer who takes the ensuing possession off until he has the ball in his hands. He’s active in getting it back.
In terms of negative traits? It’s hard to know how this will play out at the next level, but Springer doesn’t look as confident when dribbling with his non-dominant hand. In general, his dribbling looks kind of sloppy, and he will get pressed a lot in college if it continues. But I’ve noticed that sometimes that’s simply because high school athletes take chances in their games that they won’t in college.
5-star SG Keon Johnson
As weird as it sounds, Johnson is a hard player to scout. To the point that I don’t have an easy comparison for him, and I am torn on him as a player. Why?
Well, it’s obvious that Johnson has a natural feel for the game. In terms of shooting, passing, playing defense, etc., Johnson looks like a basketball player should. He’s very shifty and when he cuts towards the basket, he’s almost impossible to defend. That translates to defense as well. If Johnson focused on that part of his game, he could be an elite disruptor. His tape shows a lot of his potential in this area when he jumps passes or when he hangs around half court and attempts to frustrate a ball handler.
Where I’m confused is his development as an offensive weapon. His strengths point towards a guy who’d dominate when attacking the rim and forcing a defense to collapse on him. Yet some of his moves when doing so don’t seem sustainable at the next level. He’s got the explosion and the smoothness, but I think some control and refinement would do wonders. His 247 profile has his comparison as Malik Beasley, which I agree with in terms of his natural athleticism.
Johnson is a real wildcard. I’d say that he has the lowest floor of anyone in the article. But if he is able to harness that athleticism and capitalize on it...he’s going to the NBA as soon as possible.
4-star SF Corey Walker
Walker is 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, so the term “lanky” first comes to mind. This is true—he is still growing into his frame and figuring out where he best fits on the court.
If I had to guess, I think Walker is at his best when he’s near the rim and able to provide a short-to-mid range presence. His offense is a work-in-progress (and he won’t be able to get away with some of his moves in college), yet it is obvious that he has the prerequisite athleticism to frustrate a defense in the middle of the paint. Putting him in a position to fight for offensive rebounds or chip in short range buckets will do wonders for his production.
However, this is Rick Barnes we are talking about. He needs at least one guy on the court who can provide active defense and toughness. This is where I think Walker will shine. His defensive potential is the highest of the three signees, and he has a striking resemblance to Tayshaun Prince up and down the court. He just needs more experience and a coach that really stresses the finer points of being a defender on the court.
I’m not sure Walker ever turns into a superstar forward that can hit from every part of the court. I’m more confident he can become an NBA All-Defense selection with enough work.