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ESPN: Anonymous coaches talk Tennessee basketball recruiting

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee basketball has become a destination for top basketball recruits over the last few years. Rick Barnes started slow on the trail in Knoxville, but his development of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone seemed to open some doors on the recruiting side.

Five five-star signatures and back to back top five recruiting classes later, Tennessee is pretty consistently competing — and beating out — traditional blue bloods for top talent.

So where does Tennessee rank in the SEC? ESPN’s Jeff Borzello polled anonymous coaches around the league, and the Vols landed in the second tier of the league. Kentucky was the lone member of tier one. Florida, Arkansas and Alabama joined Tennessee in the next group.

Borzello gathered some anonymous comments from those coaches about why Tennessee ranks as highly as they do. Here are some of the highlights.

“They have the best arena in college basketball [Thompson-Boling Arena]. It’s an amazing gym. The outside looks like s---, but the inside is beautiful,”

“Knoxville is such a better town than the other places in this tier,” one coach said. “And Tennessee has everything that blue bloods have except for the history.”

“As far as the best college basketball atmosphere goes, it’s not. But the fans are amazing. Crazy, maybe delusional, but they’re great. They show up. They have unbelievable facilities all over campus, the athletic department pours a ton of money into their program, their facilities. They had recent success under Coach Pearl, and Coach Barnes has kept that level of success going.”

LSU and Auburn made up tier No. 3, Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M were in tier No. 4 and Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina were placed in tier No. 5.

The recruiting gap between Kentucky and the rest of the league has been substantial for some time now, but it does appear to be closing. Everyone knows what Rick Barnes has been able to do recently, landing the nation’s No. 3 overall class in the 2021 cycle. Nate Oats at Alabama and Bruce Pearl at Auburn have also landed some elite prospects, keeping pace with John Calipari.

Now, of course, everything is rapidly changing due to the explosion of the transfer portal. Calipari even changed his ways this offseason, taking four players out of the transfer portal instead of his traditional 5-6 elite high school prospects. The portal will shape the offseason going forward as we enter a ‘free agency’ era of college basketball. It will be interesting to see if that ends up changing the landscape of the sport a bit over the next few years.

Rick Barnes, who will turn 67 this summer, doesn’t appear to be slowing down on the trail. If anything, he’s getting better in this area, establishing Knoxville as a premier destination in the country. The only thing left to do is to win big in March, something that has eluded him for his entire career.