The Tennessee Volunteers are on the verge of another potential SEC regular season title. They’re on the fringe of their first ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Whatever funk they seemed to be in over the last two weeks appears to be gone at the right time. Things can’t get much better for Rick Barnes, who sits 26-3 in year four at Tennessee.
We’re about to embark on the most nerve-wracking time to be a fan of a college basketball team — March. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams will get one final go at cutting down some nets together over the next month. Quite honestly, this feels like Tennessee’s best shot ever to do just that.
However, if you’re like me, you can’t stop thinking about how Schofield’s final game will be played at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night. You’re worried about Grant Williams and even now Jordan Bone testing the NBA waters. What happens next year if those two aren’t here? What happens when those two plus Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner are gone after next year? This has been such a special and unique group of players, how will they ever be replaced?
That’s been the feeling in the pit of my stomach for a couple of months now. However, that feeling kind of vanished on Sunday afternoon.
Tennessee landed a commitment from 2020 five-star small forward Corey Walker, backing up the signing of five-star guard Josiah James in the 2019 cycle. We can officially say that Tennessee’s success on the court has translated to the recruiting trail.
It wasn’t all that long ago when Barnes was taking heat because he “couldn’t recruit.” To be fair, there may have been something to that idea, at least in terms of landing elite talent. After all, each of Tennessee’s contributors are three-star prospects this year. That’s a testament to this staff’s ability to evaluate and develop. Now that ability to develop is starting to get noticed by top-flight prospects.
With four spots (and potentially more) coming open for the 2020 class, that group has a shot to be special. Tennessee has already secured at commitment from Walker, but they’re also in on fellow five-star prospects Jaden Springer and Walker Kessler. Not to mention top end four-star guys like Keon Johnson, Jayden Stone and P.J. Hall, among others. Just look at this list of visitors that saw the Vols whip Kentucky on Saturday.
That 2020 group could legitimately be loaded, but don’t forget about Josiah James coming in this year. If Jordan Bone and Grant Williams return for one more go at it with Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, that’s a ton of senior leadership on the floor at once. Inserting a five-star talent like James should ease the blow of losing Schofield, though no player could truly replace what Admiral brings. It will be fascinating to see how James fits in the culture. It will also be interesting to see if he sticks around in Knoxville for more than one season.
The real test for Barnes comes in 2020 though, when this core is officially gone for good. He got off to a really good start in securing the Vols’ future on Sunday and there’s undoubtedly more to come.
You can probably bet that this is the last time Barnes has to try to piece together a championship roster with only three-star talent at Tennessee.