Keon Johnson’s commitment gives Rick Barnes three of Tennessee’s eight highest-rated signees in the modern recruiting era (247’s commitment list goes back to 2003):
- Tobias Harris
- Scotty Hopson
- Robert Hubbs
- Josiah James
- Duke Crews
- Keon Johnson
- Ramar Smith
- Corey Walker
Johnson is the second-highest in-state player in that group behind Hubbs. If Josiah James isn’t a one-and-done this season, the 2020-21 Vols will be one of the most talented teams in terms of recruiting stars we’ve seen around these parts.
In terms of wattage in an individual class, the 2020 group could also be in the mix as an all-time great. We don’t think of them as being in the same class today, but it’s hard to top Tobias Harris and Jordan McRae in 2010. Harris was a one-and-done who went 19th in the 2011 NBA Draft; McRae appeared in only ten games that season and played more than four minutes only thrice (via Basketball Reference), but became the dominant scoring option in Cuonzo Martin’s tenure. He’s played in 86 NBA games including 27 last season with the Washington Wizards.
The one that felt most important in the moment was in 2006: while Bruce Pearl was leading one of the most impressive year one turnarounds in SEC history, he also signed Duke Crews, Ramar Smith, Wayne Chism (#13 all-time among Tennessee signees) and Marques Johnson (#21, transferred to NC State). Only Chism would finish his career at Tennessee, but the first three were a part of two Sweet 16’s and a number one ranking in 2007 and 2008.
That 2006 group, on the heels of earning a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament helped change our impression of what Tennessee basketball could be. We’re seeing more of the same from Barnes now: a number three and number two seed in the last two tournaments with teams featuring four players who fought their way to the NBA after coming in ranked 36th (Jordan Bone), 40th (Grant Williams), 53rd (Admiral Schofield), and 62nd (Kyle Alexander) among Tennessee signees all-time. Also in that group: Jordan Bowden (54th). Lamonte Turner stands out at 28th!
What Barnes and that group have done is transform Tennessee basketball, already earning a month atop the polls and missing the program’s first number one seed by a hair while earning a winning record against Kentucky. The steps left to take are few, and the Vols are paying their head coach to be in the company of schools who take them. And now the Vols are earning commitments from the kind of talent that gets you a top five class.