The first thing that stands out in watching tape of Tennessee’s latest basketball commitment, post man C.J. Turman, is a strong sense of déjà vu. Where have you seen this guy before?
Then this thought occurs: This is a large (6-foot-8, 250 pounds), mobile man, a truck that leaps. Tennessee has had this player before, and his name was C.J., too. That would be C.J. Black, the pride of Chattanooga Brainerd High School and one of the most important players in the program’s history, because, along with Tony Harris, Charles Hathaway, Isiah Victor and Vincent Yarbrough, he helped bring Tennessee basketball out of the black hole into which it plummeted after the firing of coach Don DeVoe.
Turman’s task when he arrives in Knoxville won’t be so urgent, but it’s no less important. And like Black, he’ll have help, too. Because Turman is part of Tennessee’s impressive recruiting class comprised of four players, all rated among the top 150 players in the country and among the top 15 or so at their positions, that will plug several holes next season and beyond. Turman, along with point guard Larry Austin, shooting guard Jordan Cornish and power forward Phil Cofer, are program sustainers.
Some fans might have seen another lull coming after former coach Bruce Pearl, who had taken the Vols to six straight NCAA tournaments, got fired. The two consecutive NIT appearances and inconsistent early recruiting directed by Pearl’s predecessor, Cuonzo Martin, wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence that the program could continue along the path he inherited.
Though Martin is one of the hardest working recruiters around, he couldn’t do it alone, and the fact is, there was a feeling that player procurement was in a sort of scramble mode, a feast or famine approach that largely produced players at either end of the spectrum. For every Jarnell Stokes, there were two Wes Washpuns and Dwight Millers.
But that started to change with the freshman class that arrived on campus this summer. Everyone knows about five-star guard Robert Hubbs, and how Martin made it a personal quest to sign him. Versatile A.J. Davis, by most accounts, is a keeper. And point guard Darius Thompson, late signee though he was, may be better than even the Tennessee staff thought.
To that class, Martin now adds a group that, talent wise, isn’t going to match the typical haul at Kentucky. But what the 2014 class is going to inject into the program is solid players, four-year players who will theoretically improve as they go along. And that’s how the Vols will keep pace with the best teams in the Southeastern Conference, with good, solid players, who by the time they are juniors and seniors, will match Kentucky’s five-start contingent with experience.
Not that Vol fans will have to wait two years until this latest class contributes. Turman, the truck that leaps, is one example of a guy that will come to campus ready to rumble.
"Turman's a guy who is physically ready for college basketball, ESPN analyst Dave Telep said. “Think of a 6-8 blue-collar power forward that will bang inside. He has shown offense in spurts, but you want to see more consistency. Put him next to Phil Cofer and they'll collect tolls in the lane."
And there is more good news about this class: Martin isn’t finished. It’s likely that, given his current status among NBA Draft analysts, Stokes will strongly consider leaving after this season. So that leaves one more scholarship to fill. And the recent news that Memphis forward Leron Black has crossed hometown Memphis and Florida off his list is encouraging.
That’s no guarantee Tennessee can sign Black, a mobile power forward, given that Illinois may lead for his services and Baylor is in the picture, too. But Black, along with Turman, Austin, Cornish, Cofer, Hubbs, Davis and Thompson, can fortify the program for the foreseeable future.
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