Over the past month, it’s been Tennessee’s football team that’s made the waves on the recruiting trail. Here’s our own Clint Eiland on 4-star athlete Kaemen Marley committing to Tennessee about 10 days ago. Go check it out.
But I want to circle back to the Tennessee basketball team’s nationally fourth-ranked class for the 2020 season.
The class is headlined by Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, two guards who both rank in the country’s top-20 best players according to 247 Sports. Let’s start there.
Springer is listed at 6-foot-5, 195, and if you watch the highlights get ready for dunks. Lots and lots of dunks.
Dunks are great. They look cool on highlights, and they’re exciting. But dunks aren’t great for predicting how well a player will transition from high school basketball to college.
Springer is a big guard at 6-5, and I’d say his listed weight of 195 is probably pretty close. From what I’ve seen, Springer was the primary ball handler for his team at IMG, but the recruiting services have him listed as a combo guard. That just means the player can play both point guard and shooting guard. It can be tough for guys labeled as “combo guards,” to play point guard at that size. They often struggle with full-time ball handling responsibilities on offense and staying in front of their man on defense. I don’t know if that will be the case for Springer once he gets to Tennessee, but in the videos I’ve seen, his handle looks good enough to play at least some point guard for the Vols.
I only posted this one video, but there are several more out there, and the most common theme I found was Springer’s ability to finish through contact at the rim. That’s an area where his size is absolutely an advantage. He’s quick enough to get his man on his hip and strong enough to absorb the blow and hit the shot. He’s also athletic enough to hang in the air, wait for the defender to clear and release. He’s right-handed, but looks comfortable changing direction and attacking left, especially once he gets near the free-throw line.
You don’t see much of his jump shot in the videos, but it looks like he’s got good lift and balance on his jumper. I think scoring inside the arc will come naturally, but how well his 3-point shot develops will be critical to how consistently he can make an impact offensively at Tennessee.
A small, cautionary note: Josiah James was a 5-star guard coming to Tennessee, but ended up playing mostly small forward for the Vols. You never know how guys will make the transition, but I think Springer has the potential to stay in the back court long term.
On 247Sports, Johnson sits at 18th nationally just three spots after Springer. He’s the top-ranked guard in the state and the No. 2 prospect overall.
Like Springer, he’s listed at 6-foot-5, but checks in a bit smaller at 180 pounds. I think what impressed me most is how Johnson flies in the open floor. If he gets the rebound, he’s going to glide down court for a layup on the other end. While he looks a bit lanky, or spindly maybe, in highlights, he uses his looooong arms and good hands to his advantage on defense. Really — the potential for both these guys defensively is just through the roof.
There’s not as much tape available on Johnson as there is on Springer, and he’s playing in the post for his team as much as he is on the perimeter. But in either case, you can see the type of explosive athlete he is. There’s not as many 360 dunks on Johnson’s tape like you see with Springer, but my goodness if you watch Johnson catch a rebound off a miss and slam it home, you’ll see that explosion. He’s also got a nice array of post moves, I guess as a result of playing down low for his high school team.
I don’t know what Barnes has planned for these two, or how he plans to integrate them with last year’s point guard sensation Santiago Vescovi. I imagine both will get time spelling Vescovi early, and I think we’ll see some lineups with all three playing together. Check back tomorrow for more on the rest of Tennessee basketball’s 2020 recruiting class.