By now you know the story. Rick Barnes has turned his success on the court at Tennessee into success off the court, turning Knoxville into a destination for several top prospects. He inked his second and third five-star prospects at Tennessee during the 2020 cycle, adding a highly ranked four-star to the group as well.
That class is going to merge with a few pieces that were put through the ringer last year — hopefully creating the right balance of experience and pure talent to win big in March. John Fulkerson, Yves Pons (pending his NBA decision), Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James each return looking to build off of a bumpy 2019-20 season.
Now, they’ll have two top 15 prospects to help them get over the hump.
In a rankings update from 247Sports, Tennessee signees Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson moved further up the board. Springer hopped up to 14, while Johnson moved from the 20s all the way up to 15th. Four-star forward Corey Walker Jr. moved down to 68th.
Malachi Wideman — a top 100 football prospect and Tennessee signee — finished inside of the top 150 on the basketball side of things. Wideman is expected to give both sports a shot, potentially along with Dee Beckwith, another 2020 football signee.
Johnson and Springer both have one-and-done potential, which is new territory for the Tennessee basketball program. They’ve both already appeared in 2021 NBA Mock Drafts, giving you a taste of how NBA franchises already view the two players.
Can they live up to the hype immediately? That’s the question. The exciting thing for Tennessee is that they don’t have to come in and light the world on fire. Fulkerson, Pons, Vescovi and James can do some heavy lifting early. Transfers Victor Bailey and E.J. Anosike will also ease the transition.
This group has a chance to be the most talented Tennessee team in recent memory. They may not be as polished as the 2018-19 group was, but they probably have a little more upside to them. We’ll see if all the pieces can come together this winter.