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Tennessee Basketball Recruiting: Who the Volunteers are chasing in the class of 2022

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Can Barnes land another elite class?

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

After a few years of some more spotty recruiting success under Head Coach Rick Barnes, Tennessee has hit its stride on the trail. The Vols have now inked two-straight national top-five classes (no. 5 in 2020, no. 2 in 2021), added at least one 5-star player three-straight seasons and signed five overall top-50 players since 2019.

It’s all well and good to sign top classes for college hoops, but Tennessee is also producing NBA draft picks and players. The Vols have six players currently in the League with four (Grant Williams, Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Yves Pons) coming since 2019 and two more (Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone) oscillating between the NBA and G-League. Recruits know all that, and it matters perhaps more than any other pitch teams can offer.

Now, let’s talk about which recruits Tennessee is chasing this cycle.

BJ Edwards - Guard - 6-foot-3, 170 lbs

Edwards is a 4-star point guard from Knoxville Catholic high school and the lone commitment for UT’s ‘22 class as of this writing. He committed in early July but was helping recruit other players in this class in June. I dig that. More on that later.

Per 247, he’s the fourth-ranked player in Tennessee and 11th-ranked point guard nationally. He’s also the latest in the line of highly-rated guards to land with the Vols. He won Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball award for his division last season, and, oh yeah, he plays AAU ball for Bobby Maze.

If you read my hoops writing with any regularity, you’ve probably seen me mention this before: there’s quite the pipeline from the BMAZE Elite team to Tennessee that’s been built over the last several years — Drew Pember, Jaden Springer, Huntley-Hatfield, Tamba, with perhaps others of which I’m unaware. It’s difficult to overstate the value/importance/impact of that relationship.

Back to Edwards — I’ll be interested to see how his game evolves his senior year because there’s likely to be a Kennedy-Chandler sized hole at the lead guard position after this season. Edwards plays point guard for Catholic, but Josiah-Jordan James and Jaden Springer also played point guard for their high schools, too, so I’ve become a bit reluctant in assuming any player labeled a PG by recruiting services will end up filling that role in college.

But watching his film, Edwards looks suited to be a primary ball handler and plenty able to initiate offense for the Vols. He’s got a pretty tight handle, good vision and has averaged five or more assists in both his sophomore and his junior seasons at Catholic. He’s got an advanced understanding of operating in the pick-and-roll and reads defenses well while subsequently attacking based on how the defense is playing him. I’m not gonna do much analyzing of Edwards here, but there’s just a couple quick things I wanted to show y’all.

High-school highlight tapes don’t usually include a bevy of defensive highlights, especially for guards who aren’t volley-balling shots into the crowd, so it’s not as easy to get a feel for the player’s prowess without access to actual film.

Still, here’s a play I happened across of Edward guarding incoming Vol PG Kennedy Chandler during Chandler’s time at Briarcrest in Memphis. He stays with Chandler the duration, moving his feet while keeping his chest with Chandler but his arms up. Great defense and it ends up a blocked shot.

Zakai Zeigler - Guard - 5-foot-10, 165 lbs **COMMITTED**

UPDATE 8/27: Things moved pretty fast with Tennessee and Zeigler. As noted below, Tennessee coaches saw him at Peach Jam in late July, he came for a visit on Monday, August 23rd and then officially announced he signed with the Vols AND reclassified to enroll early as a part of the 2021 recruiting class.

From what I understand, he’s been enrolled for a few days but chose to keep things quiet. It’s looking more and more like Tennessee might just be shooting for the stars with the ‘22 class, and doing some work early in case it ends up just missing out on its main targets. The Vols are now at the 14-scholarship limit with just two seniors, John Fulkerson (sixth-year graduate) and Victor Bailey. But, since the transfer portal has become such a factor, there’s bound to be turnover and more scholarships opening up after next season. (END UPDATE)

So, after some helpful insight from the readers here at RTT, we’ve decided to update this post whenever players Tennessee is after commit as well as whenever we hear any new names that the staff is recruiting. Zakai Zeigler is one of those new names.

I’m going to be upfront — when I was originally writing this story, I was a bit worried because this class seems to have a considerable high-risk/ high-reward construction, and I wasn’t seeing many names who could be reasonably assumed as contingency plans for the staff should the high-risk side of that equation come to fruition. In retrospect, that concern was premature, because this staff has shown repeatedly it’s always recruiting players that us unconnected folk have no idea about.

News broke late Tuesday night, via 247’s Grant Ramey, that Zeigler had set a commitment date for this Friday, August 27th, after being in Knoxville for a visit Monday, August 23rd.

He’s currently a recruit for the 2022 class, but Ziegler said there’s a chance he reclassifies.

“I could reclassify up and go 2021, if me and my family (make that decision) and that’s what’s best for me, athletically and academically,” Zeigler said. “As of right now I’m still 2022.”

“Once word got around that I could reclassify up to 2021, they showed 2021 interest [in him reclassifying],” Zeigler added “And we started speak on that more.”

Zeigler would be the third 2022 recruit to reclassify to the 2021 class, joining forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and center Handje Tamba.

If my math is correct, Tennessee currently has 13 scholarship players, and it’s been assumed that the Vols would leave that last spot open for some, perhaps previously unforeseen, development. You know, like when Santiago Vescovi came out of the blue, joined the Vols 2019 recruiting class in late November, practiced with the team for four days, then started at point guard and hit six 3-pointers against LSU.

Watch Zeigler cook below:

He’s an interesting case as a prospect, mostly because he was pretty widely slept on until he stole the show at the Nike EYBL Peach Jam in late July. Zeigler’s team lost in the tournament’s final, but it wasn’t for his lack of trying. The young guard from New York was reportedly shooting out of his mind, going a staggering 7-8 from behind the 3-point line. He dropped 23 total points, added 10 assists, three steals, three rebounds and didn’t turn the ball over once.

Rick Barnes and assistants Rod Clark and Mike Schwartz were in attendance, and apparently Zeigler got their attention.

“I started hearing from (Tennessee) a couple days after Peach Jam,” Zeigler said via 247. “Coach (Mike) Schwartz texted me. From there, I just went with them, started talking with them more.”

Folks who’ve seen Zeigler play live are quick to warn you not to let his small stature cloud your opinion of him — he’s apparently relentless guarding the ball.

“I can play defense,” Zeigler said of what he’s heard from Tennessee. “I can pick up 94 (feet) despite my height. I make up for that on the defensive end. I can make the shots, shoot the ball and run the team. And I’m a true point guard.”

(If you’re not familiar with Peach Jam, the tournament’s just filled up with high-level prospects. In fact, two other players Tennessee is recruiting, Brandon Miller and Cason Wallace, also won awards Miller got the defensive MVP, while Wallace made the all-tournament second team.

UPDATE 9/13: Ernest Udeh - C - 6-foot-10, 230 lbs

Udeh is a 5-star player on 247 and the no. 19th-ranked player overall in the 247 rankings. He’s also a 4-star and top-30 player in the composite system that factors in the various sites’ rankings into one conglomerate.

While Udeh is new player to this list, he’s been on the Vols’ radar likely for some time, even before they offered him back in June. Tennessee was consistently mentioned among the teams he heard from in the early summer months, but he added some big-time offers later in the summer, and I thought maybe things had quieted down between Udeh and the Vols.

But, he released a top-10 in August, and the Vols were still in contention.

Udeh was just a 3-star in the spring, but he’s another prospect who’s had a fantastic summer and seen his stock take a Tesla-like rise. He made some major noise at the Pangos All-American invite-only camp in late August and was named to the event’s All-Tournament team.

Most of these highlights, and the stuff his other tapes, are dunks. That doesn’t give anybody much to work with from an evaluation standpoint. But he’s definitely more of a traditional big man than say Brandon Miller, who recently cut Tennessee from his list of possible destinations, or Yohan Traore, who the Vols are still chasing but is more of a stretch-4. Udeh looks like he’s already an advanced shot blocker and seems to have enough natural athleticism to develop a few go-to moves in the post.

Coaches from Kansas and Alabama, among others, made appearances on the 9th, the first day of the open recruiting period. According to Jake Weingarten, Tennessee traveled South to see Udeh today.

Since the Brandon Miller ship has sailed, it makes sense that we’re starting to see Tennessee mentioned with other big men. One note I’ll leave you with for now — a quote from the 247 story when Udeh released his top-10: apparently the coaching staff is doing its best to sell Udeh’s mom on coming to play for the Vols. I’m always a big fan of this strategy — if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.

“Tennessee is one of those programs where the whole staff is involved,” Udeh said. “And they are hitting up my mom on a daily basis and always checking on how we are doing. They always stress to me how they can help me get to the next level with expanding my game and making me better as an individual. It is just good vibes all around.”

KyeRon Lindsay - Forward - 6-foot-8, 205 lbs

UPDATE 9/9: The Tennessee coaches made good use of their time in Texas today, as they went and saw KyeRon Lindsay, too. Coaches from Georgia, Arkansas, UNLV and Ohio State were also present. It doesn’t seem like Lindsay has been on the Vols’ radar for as long as some of the other guys on this list, but the coaches showing up to see him on the first day allowed indicates he’s a priority. Another forward, Brandon Miller, just eliminated Tennessee from his list of schools last week. I’m not saying that has anything to do with the staff visiting Lindsay today — I’m just simply noting it. (END UPDATE)

KyeRon Lindsay, from Texas, is another name I hadn’t seen before recently. He’s currently a top-150 3-star on 247, unranked on Rivals and receiving the fruits on an impressive summer with some big-time offers. (Off topic interjection: he’s also left handed — the Vols love the lefties) Those site generated offer lists aren’t always the most reliable resource, but 247’s timeline says he got a Vol offer on July 25th. In fact, that last week-ish of July was apparently really busy for Lindsay, as he allegedly offers from UT, Georgia, Marquette, Xavier, Texas Tech, Texas A&M. Apparently Eric Musselman and Arkansas offered yesterday, Monday August 23rd.

He trimmed his list down to eight on August 24th, and Tennessee made the cut.

Lindsay has a visit scheduled to Tennessee on October 8th, which is the same weekend South Carolina will be in town to play the Vols in Neyland Stadium. Just throwing this out there — if we rock black jerseys for the game it’s gonna be automatic commitment for any hooper here visiting.

Like Zeigler, Lindsay’s stock has been blowing up in part because of his strong showing at Peach Jam. He won all session first-team honors at the week-long Jam’s conclusion playing on Team Proskills with Cason Wallace. Lindsay’s per-game numbers were some of the best at the event — 19 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and one steal playing as the team’s center.

I haven’t seen Lindsay play yet, but here’s Rivals’ recruiting analyst Jamie Shaw talking about Lindsay before the forward balled out at Peach Jam:

Kyeron Lindsay is productive, there is really no other way to put it. Playing this week with the Pro Skill (Texas) group, the Denton (Texas) Guyer High forward averaged 16.3 points on 58.9 percent shooting with 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a nose for the basketball with soft touch and passer friendly hands around the basket. Lindsay carries offers from the likes of UNLV, Tulsa, Rice, Texas State, Old Dominion, UTEP, Oklahoma State, Cal State Fullerton, Southern Illinois and others. He will have a lot of eyes on him during the upcoming Peach Jam.

Brandon Miller Eliminated Tennessee on 9/3

Cason Wallace - Guard - 6-foot-4, 185 lbs

UPDATE 9/9: Today was the first day of the open recruiting period (that lasts until Nov., 8th), and Tennessee sent the entire staff to Richardson, TX., today to see Cason Wallace.

Apparently Texas sent its whole staff while Kentucky assistant Jai Lucas was also in attendance. Wallace is fresh off his official visit to Kentucky with the trip to Tennessee still scheduled for the weekend of 9/17.

247 asked Wallace about each of the three schools still in the race. These quotes are typically pretty generic, but here’s what he said about the Vols, anyway.

“I like their campus,” Wallace said. “It is pretty different from being in Dallas. But I like the way the team and the coaching staff is all together. They are a very family-oriented program and I think that is why I feel I would fit there.”

Lots of people seem to be pretty sure about Wallace ending up at Kentucky, but Tennessee has liked where they’ve sat with him for some time now, and I haven’t seen anything recently that leads me to believe otherwise. He’s announcing November 7th. (END UPDATE)

UPDATE 9/1: Wallace released a top-4 today, just a few weeks after releasing the top-3 I wrote about below. Tennessee remains in the hunt, along with Kentucky and Texas, but Wallace added a new team, UTSA, or the University of Texas at San Antonino. Trivia that means absolutely nothing — rapper Travis Scott is apparently a UTSA alumni. So there’s that.

Moving on, Wallace took his official visit to Kentucky this past weekend and will travel to Texas for his visit with the Longhorns this upcoming weekend. New Texas Head Coach Chris Beard has been pretty plain about Wallace being the Longhorns’ most sought-after recruit this cycle, but most are still predicting Kentucky to get the signature come November 7th when Wallace announces. It can’t hurt that Tennessee is set to be Wallace’s last visit, but I’m growing less confident in the Vols’ chances as this race gets closer to its conclusion. (END UPDATE)

Cason Wallace is a 5-star prospect from Richardson, Texas. He’s listed as the second-best combo guard, the second-best player in Texas and the 16th-best player in the country overall.

He’s also been in the news recently, in what’s been a flurry of updates regarding Tennessee recruiting prospects in the last few weeks. Wallace announced his top-3 just a few days ago, with the Vols making the cut along with Texas and Kentucky. In the same announcement, Wallace detailed plans for official visits to each school with Tennessee’s coming on September 17th — a week after Miller’s and occurring the same weekend as the football home game against Tennessee Tech.

247 has two predictions listed for Wallace currently, both in favor of Kentucky, with one from a Baylor writer and the other from a Kentucky writer. Both writers have a 70-plus career accuracy rating on their crystal ball predictions, but neither person scored his prediction with much confidence — the Baylor writer assigned a 3 and the Kentucky writer a 6 with the scale being a traditional 1-10 system. For what it’s worth, Rivals lists three predictions for Wallace on its site and all three of those are for Kentucky, too.

According to GoVols 247’s Grant Ramey, Tennessee’s ramped up its efforts to sign Wallace since it hired assistant coach Rod Clark this offseason.

If I could snap my fingers and have Tennessee sign any player it’s after in this class, it’d be Wallace. He absolutely fits the bill for recent Barnes’ targets and signees: exceptionally athletic and advanced defensively. But he also scores from all three levels so effortlessly, making him perhaps the best two-way guard in the country. His crossover snaps, he’s a blur in transition and he’ll rise up and hit a 3 if the defense sags.

I don’t think he translates as well offensively initially, but that’s not as much a knock on his offensive skills as it is a testament to how brilliant he is on defense. His hands are strikingly quick and he pairs that with great timing on digs and deflections. Plus, he’s also a tremendous full-court shot blocker, with several chase-down, easy-bucket-erasing swats on his film. His approach to the game in general reminds me of Keon Johnson — it’s that same gritty, take-no-prisoners attitude. Apparently, he’s also a great guy off the court, too, per on3’s Gerry Hamilton.

Fingers and toes crossed here that Tennessee lands him.

Jalen Hood-Schifino Committed to Indiana on 8/24/21

Julian Phillips - Forward - 6-foot-8, 200 lbs

Tennessee’s looking to cash in this cycle on its recent recruiting and player development successes, as it’s pursuing almost exclusively elite, highly-ranked prospects. Phillips definitely checks both of those boxes. He’s a nationally top-25 ranked player from Blythewood, SC who will play his senior season at Link Year Prep school in Missouri. At his current No. 23 overall slot, he’s the highest rated 4-star and the No. 1 ranked player in MO on the 247 composite rankings. For what it’s worth, he’s listed as a 5-star prospect on Rivals.

A few days ago, Phillips trimmed his prospective schools list down to 10, and yes, Tennessee made the cut. Like Miller, Phillips mentioned Barnes as part of the reason the Vols are still in contention, but he also pointed to the recent string of players UT has put in the NBA.

“Coach Barnes is another great coach,” Phillips said. “The thing that stands out with them is that when I got on the zoom call with them last week, they were real keen on player development. Especially with guys at my position the more wing type players and coach Barnes has had some success with some great wings.”

Tennessee’s only just recently offered Phillips, like in early July, and when late offers like that happen, I usually think the staff got bad news about somebody higher up on its board. But rest easy! The guys at Volquest said that’s got more to do with newly-hired assistant coach Justin Gainey and his pre-existing ties to Phillips than it does anything that’s happening with other players of interest.

247 has Phillips listed as a power forward, Rivals has him as a small forward and I can, theoretically, see him playing either in college. But at Tennessee, specifically, I think he’d be more suited to play in the post. He’s got soft hands and a good first step, but I don’t see his game translating to the wing all that well in college. Tennessee’s front court is pretty crowded, even with John Fulkerson’s assured exit after this season. He’s got a high ceiling as a four who can step out or put it on the deck with whichever team he ends up choosing.

Dillon Mitchell - Forward - 6-foot-7, 180 lbs

UPDATE 9/13: We know the Tennessee coaches were in Texas on Monday seeing Cason Wallace and KyeRon Lindsay for the first day of the open recruiting period, but apparently today they were in Florida. They saw big man Ernest Udeh mentioned above, but they also stopped in to see Dillon Mitchell.

Apparently Chris Beard and Texas went on Friday, and while there are plenty of variables when coaches decide which prospects to go see and when, it’s hard for us not to look at the timeline as an extension of the coaches’ board.

It was reported that Texas had its entire staff in to see Cason Wallace on Friday, so maybe Texas went straight from Wallace’s visit to Florida to see Mitchell, while the Vols’ staff also visited KyeRon Lindsay.

I dunno — whatever, either way, Tennessee went to see Mitchell today, on the second day of the open recruiting period, so if I see any pertinent news, I’ll pass it along. (END UPDATE)

Mitchell is a 4-star prospect from Spring Hill, FL, and is currently listed as the 28th-best player in the country via 247.

Tennessee’s been a (notice, “a” not “the”) longtime favorite for Mitchell, and it still has the lone crystal ball prediction in its favor from forever recruiting analyst and current 247 Director of Basketball Scouting Jerry Meyer. But the Vols are in an interesting battle with Florida State for both Phillips and Mitchell where what happens with one could have a ripple effect on the other.

MItchell’s listed as the eighth-best player in Florida, so it’s natural Tennessee would be vying with a Florida school for the forward's signature, but Chris Holtman has Ohio State squarely in the mix, too. The Buckeyes have the No. 1 class in the country for the ‘22 cycle as things currently stand and are apparently pretty keen on adding Mitchell to the mix.

Now, pay attention, because things are just about to get interesting.

Joe Tipton of On3 (I keep capitalizing it differently because it’s a new company and I’m not entirely sure what’s the standard) recently tweeted, and subsequently deleted, that Overtime Elite offered Mitchell a two-year/ $2 million deal to skip college and come hoop with them. Overtime Elite is another professional option, similar to the G-League and NBL but different. If you’re familiar with the Overtime Instagram (5.4 million followers) account, well this is the same company. The following is straight from the Overtime Elite website to give you a better understanding:

OTE (Overtime Elite) is a transformative new sports league that offers the world’s most talented young basketball players a better pathway to becoming professional athletes. OTE (pronounced Oh-Tee-E) provides a comprehensive accelerator for elite players’ professional careers. The league offers a year-round development program combining world-class coaching, cutting-edge sports science and performance technologies, top-notch facilities, and a rigorous, highly personalized academic program that energizes and enhances each athlete’s journey from proficiency to pro for the next generation of athlete empowerment.

It’s not college ball, and it’s not the G-League, but it is meant to serve as an alternative to both. Apparently, it’s paying salaries to players no less than $100,000 and has already signed deals with some top-tier talent, like the No. 1 PG in the country for the ‘22 class, Jazian Gortman.

So, what happens here? Why did Tipton delete the tweet? Did he jump the gun, and then the offer from OTE hit a snag? Mitchell visited Tennessee in June with BJ Edwards after Edwards purposefully rescheduled the date of his visit to coincide with Mitchell’s, which is a positive, but apparently a lot has changed since then. After his visit in June, Mitchell said he wanted to have his choice made by CBB’s first signing day on November 11th, 2021. I think this one will be close all the way to the finish, but I feel like the Vols end up losing out to FSU, Ohio State or the pro offer if it officially materializes.

Yohan Traore - Post - 6-foot-10, 225 lbs

UPDATE 8/27: Two updates on Traore today. First, he was updated on the Rivals’ rankings and saw a SERIOUS jump. He’s now listed as a 5-star and the No. 4 overall player in the country. He’s had a fantastic summer, and I’d expect him to get a significant bump in the 247 rankings, too, whenever they update. He’s looking more and more like an immediate difference maker, and he also seems like he’d be a perfect fit in Barnes’ offense. Alright, second, Traore also released a top-10, and the Vols are included.

Texas was thought to be a contender here, and they’re apparently no longer in consideration, which is certainly good news. LSU is the one I’d watch, and obviously Juwan Howard and Michigan are a definite threat, and so is Penny at Memphis. No real idea what happens, but Tennessee’s in good shape. (END UPDATE)

Traore is one of just a few traditional post players that Tennessee is recruiting in this class. That’s understandable considering Tennessee added three players 6-9 or taller in the ‘21 group. But Barnes has definitely missed on some post player evaluations: Zach Kent, Derrick Walker, DJ Burns and Drew Pember, with the jury still out on Uros Plavsic. So, who knows how Tennessee’s frontcourt shakes out in the next couple seasons and which current players shape up as contributors.

Yohan is a west-coast prospect — he’s from Glendale, AZ, and is listed as the state’s sixth-best player along with carrying a national 67 rank. 247 ranks schools of interest from cool to warm to hot, and Texas is the only school not listed as cool — it’s listed as warm. But he’s showing offers from the elites: Gonzaga, Michigan, Houston, Kansas, LSU, Arkansas, Texas Tech, etc., etc.

The Vols went west, like all the way west, to California, to sign Jahmai Mashack in the last class, but the with all due respect to Mashack, the competition for Traore’s signature is likely going to be considerably more difficult.

Tennessee’s been working Traore for some time now — he reportedly got an offer from the staff in the spring — while most of the other heavyweights’ offers have come more recently after they watched him excel at various camps this summer. So, in theory, that works in UT’s favor, right? But in today’s CBB landscape, LSU’s checks always clear, and Gonzaga offering in January isn’t much different than Gonzaga offering in August.

It’s been so long since the Vols have deployed a high-level, traditional, 6-10 center that I’m not even sure how it would look. But Traore isn’t the old-school, brute-force post who plods up and down the court. His skillset looks malleable enough to work in a variety of systems. He’s the ideal five man for an NBA-type offense like Gonzaga’s because he’s got range enough to not hurt the spacing and can effectively screen and roll with his frame and burst. He could get up and down with teams like ‘Bama and Arkansas but he could also hit the elbow jumper and be an offensive hub in the high post in Tennessee’s system..

From the tidbits I’ve seen here and there, it sounds like the coaches thinks they’ve positioned themselves well. I haven’t seen where he’s got a trip to Knoxville planned yet, but getting him to campus on a visit will be critical. Also, obligatory: he’s French, and the Vols are going to have at least one French player on the team for five-straight seasons once Traore enrolls (Pons, Quentin Diboundje). That could mean a little something, and it could mean absolutely nothing. My gut says Tennessee loses out here, to LSU, Michigan or Gonzaga.

Jett Howard - Wing - 6-foot-7, 220 lbs

Howard is a 4-star prospect from IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, which is also the school former Vol and recent NBA first-round pick Jaden Springer attended.

I randomly got a DM on Twitter a few weeks ago from an account I’d never seen before.

Complete transparency — I hadn’t been following recruiting real closely this cycle, so this was the first time I’d seen Howard’s name linked to Tennessee. But I thought it was super cool of whoever Hoopgate is to reach out and let me know this was happening.

Howard’s a top-40 player and the ninth-ranked player in Florida this year, and, I’ve kinda buried the lede here, but he’s also Michigan Head Coach Juwan Howard’s son. I’ve really only included Jett here because he’s coming on an official visit and why not list him here, but let’s be real — there’s no chance he goes anywhere other than Michigan.

Tennessee might get a few of these guys, and it might get none. The Vols also tend to have things working with players that nobody in the media is wise to, like Vescovi and Diboundje. There’s also a few other players not mentioned here, but I tried to hit most of the higher-impact type targets in this piece. I’m open to doing this sort of thing more often, if it’s something you folks would like to read.