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Chris Clarke, Skal Labissiere highlight Tennessee basketball’s big weekend


This weekend isn’t just important for the Tennessee football team.

Among the 104,255 spectators at Neyland Stadium for Saturday’s rivalry game between the Vols and Gators, will be two top tier 2015 basketball recruits: shooting guard Chris Clarke and power forward Skal Labissiere. Clarke is scheduled to arrive Thursday night for a visit that begins Friday morning. Labissiere will arrive late Friday evening.

Clarke, who has included UT on his list of seven finalists (Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Creighton, Florida, UConn and Minnesota), has been pursued diligently by UT coach Donnie Tyndall. The 6-foot-5, 170-pound guard from Virginia Beach is a high-motor player, the kind this UT staff loves. Scouting service 247Sports considers the four-star prospect the No. 9 shooting guard in his class.

Tyndall and assistant Adam Howard visited Clarke the first week of the live recruiting period. All four coaches — Tyndall, Howard, Al Pinkins and Chris Shumate — visited again the following week. The week after, Tyndall and Howard went again. And the following week the four made yet another trip. Yes, the UT staff visited Clarke four times.

More important is that Clarke has returned the interest. Despite his list of seven, he scheduled just four official visits. The Vols get the last one. Clarke has already toured Connecticut, Creighton and Virginia Tech. If things go according to plan Tyndall will get to make the final in-person pitch, and it will come when the campus is buzzing with football energy.

When Labissiere (6-10, 200) kept UT on his list of six finalists, it made some ripples. According to 247Sports the five-star prospect is the top player in the state, the No. 2 center in the country and the No. 13 overall prospect in his class. Most recruiting analysts predict the Haiti native who has relocated to Memphis will sign with Josh Pastner and the Tigers, one of his finalists. North Carolina, Georgetown, Kentucky and Baylor are the other teams on his list. That UT persuaded Labissiere to come to Knoxville says something. Some of the best college programs didn’t get that far.

There’s a good chance the visitor list could grow. 2016 small forward Braxton Blackwell might come from Nashville. The four-star was expected to visit as of Tuesday afternoon, but his trip had not yet been finalized. Blackwell, along with center Abdulhakim Ado, sits atop UT’s 2016 recruiting wish list.

Martin on Radar: UT plans on shifting point guard duties between Ian Chiles and Kevin Punter this season. Neither are true point guards, and Chiles will be gone after the season due to his grad transfer status. That means the Vols are in the market for a point guard, and they could tap into the junior college market now that targets like Jawun Evans and Bryant Crawford have committed elsewhere or left UT off their lists. Jerron Martin is a name to know. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound point guard out of Maryland spent last season at Ole Miss before he left the Rebels overstuffed roster and transferred to South Plains Junior College in Texas. Martin played a total of seven minutes in two games as a Rebel. Martin has a relationship with Pinkins, who left Ole Miss to join Tyndall’s staff. Tyndall traveled to visit Martin earlier this month.


Skal Labissiere, Chris Clarke to receive in-home visits from Vols


The NCAA recruiting period tipped off Tuesday, and the Tennessee men’s basketball staff went to work. UT coach Donnie Tyndall and his assistants can evaluate prospects and conduct in-home visits until Nov. 10. Some key meetings that will take place this week include:

Tuesday, Sept. 9

Abdulhakim Ado — The 6-foot-11, 200-pound center from Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga is atop the Vols’ 2016 wish list. 247Sports considers him a five-star player and the top center in his class.

From Ado’s ESPN scouting report:

Adu is a physical specimen with a prototypical frame for the high-major level. He has long arms, big hands, broad shoulders, and has excellent timing. He impacts the game with his length and shot blocking ability and has the strength to guard in the post. He keeps his hands up as a post defender, moves his feet well, and his quick jumping ability is impressive. He snatches rebounds in and out of his area and his length and strength makes life difficult for post players. In transition he runs well and can be a fluid finisher.

Braxton Blackwell — The 6-foot-8, 220-pound small forward from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville is alongside Ado at the top of UT’s 2016 wish list. His former teammate, point guard Braxton Bonds, will be a walk-on with the Vols this season. 247Sports considers Blackwell the No. 25 overall player in the 2016 class.

From Blackwell’s ESPN scouting report:

Blackwell is a strong, smooth player maker. He is terrific at making plays with the ball in his hands where he is at his best. Blackwell is an excellent ball handler and passer. He has a tremendous feel for getting teammates the ball where they simply just have to catch and score. He can penetrate and kick, drop off or finish himself. Blackwell can rebound and push the ball and is a threat to go coast to coast and drop off or finish. He can pass with either hand on time and on target as well. Blackwell is also excellent coming off on ball screens where he knows his looks and makes the right decision at a high percentage of the time. Blackwell can get to the rim sometime seemingly at will. He passes over smaller defenders when pressured and seems never get rattled.

Chris Clarke — The 6-foot-5, 170-pound guard from Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach fits the uptempo, scrappy style Tyndall loves. He is skilled, too. 247Sports considers Clarke a top-10 guard in the 2015 class, the No. 40 prospect overall.

From Clarke’s ESPN scouting report:

Clarke is a long and athletic wing froward that is very active. He has an excellent motor which allows him to compete with great energy. He is an above the rim finisher on the break and he attacks the glass on both ends especially offensively. He is a good two or three dribble straight line driver and he is capable of defending multiple positions. Clarke will not hesitate to do the dirty work as well. He will not shy away from charges or loose balls.

Wednesday, Sept. 10

Skal Labissiere — The 6-foot-10, 200-pound power forward originally from Haiti but living in Memphis has UT on a list of finalists that includes Baylor, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis and North Carolina. In addition to this in-home visit, Labissiere has already scheduled a visit to UT the weekend of the Vols’ football game against Florida. He’s one of the top-10 overall prospects in the class of 2015.

From Labissiere’s ESPN scouting report:

A native of Haiti, this shot blocking stud has enormous length and good timing but what is most impressive about him is his ability to try and challenge as many shots as possible for a young post. By merely contesting shots on his own man or chasing down an opponent’s fast break opportunities and swat it away, Labissiere is not allowing teams to score easy. His rebounding game is steady as he grabs some misses with two hands as he should others he tips to himself first and then secures. Surprisingly soft touch at a young age as he hit face up jumpers at the elbows and inside the paint.

Thursday, Sept. 11

Bryant Crawford — The 6-foot-3, 170-pound point guard from Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C. is a four-star prospect in the 2015 class. Read more about him here.

Tennessee to visit four-star point guard Bryant Crawford


The Tennessee men’s basketball team is scheduled to have an in-home visit with four-star Washington D.C. point guard Bryant Crawford of Gonzaga College High School on Sept. 11.

Scouting service 247Sports’ composite ranking considers Crawford (6-foot-3, 170-pounds) the No. 12 point guard in the 2015 class and the No. 1 prospect in the D.C. area. Rivals ranks him 78th in its top 150.

An ESPN scouting report on Crawford reads:

Consummate natural point guard. Crawford has excellent size for the position. Strikes a fine balance between passing and scoring. Sees the floor well, plays at different speeds and distributes the ball accordingly. He’s a threat with his jump shot which he gets off accurately behind the 3-point arc. Willing and able defender. Rebounds well for his position and can play off the ball as needed. He also is an excellent finisher in transition. He is a quick first step slasher and has added a nice floater going left.

Competition for Crawford will be fierce. He recently visited SMU and has scheduled trips to Georgetown and Wake Forest, according to a report from basketball writer Adam Zagoria. Crawford told Zagoria he is also being recruited by Marquette, Indiana and Memphis.


Vols hoops makes top-10 for five-star Dwayne Bacon

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men’s basketball team is one of 10 finalists in the running for Dwayne Bacon, a five-star wing in the 2015 class.

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VCU point guard suspended for season opener against Vols


KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men’s basketball team’s tough season opener against VCU got a little bit easier Friday.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported VCU point guard Briante Weber will be suspended when UT and VCU meet on Nov. 14 in the Veterans Classic at the Naval Academy. He is accused of stealing an iPhone worth $200.

Weber, a likely starter who shot 44.9 percent from the field, played 28.9 minutes per game as a junior last season. He averaged 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

Most impressive is Weber’s ability to, well, steal. He led all Division I players with 121 last season. He enters his senior season 90 short of setting the NCAA Division I record for career steals. He won’t get the chance against the Vols.

“Briante has failed to live up to the standards we’ve set for our program and we are holding him accountable,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said in a release acquired by the Times-Dispatch. “Part of his discipline includes missed competition. We expect that Briante will act according to the standards of our program moving forward.”

Vols hoops makes final six for five-star Labissiere

KNOXVILLE —Tennessee is one of the final six schools in the mix for a top prospect in the 2015 class.

Skal Labissiere, a five-star power forward, announced on Twitter Tuesday night that he has cut his list of potential teams to Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis, Baylor, Georgetown and the Vols.

Scouting service 247Sports ranks the 6-foot-10, 198-pound Labissiere as the No. 1 player in the state and the No. 16 player in the 2015 class.

Labissiere, a native of Haiti, lives in Olive Branch, Miss., and plays at Evangelical Christian School in Memphis.

You can see him in action below.



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Tyndall talks Lopez injury, McKnight denial and Mostella Clearinghouse


KNOXVILLE — Tennessee men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall, during a WNML radio appearance Tuesday, spoke at length for the first time about three developments that recently impact his team.

1. On the torn ACL of walk-on senior point guard Brandon Lopez …

“It’s a huge blow to our team. In most instances some people might say, well he’s a walk-on. How important or how big of a piece could he possibly be? But if you know the makeup of our team, we really don’t have a point guard. And on top of that Brandon had worked himself into great condition. He was having a great offseason. He provided super leadership to this point. So, he was a guy that was not only battling to play significant minutes, but possibly start on our team. So it’s a huge blow to our team. And it’s certainly frustrating, disappointing for that young guy, who really is a fantastic young man.”

2. On the SEC’s denial of a graduate transfer waiver that would have allowed Florida Gulf Coast forward Eric McKnight to play for Tennessee in 2014-15 …

“It’s certainly disappointing. We all make mistakes. I’ve made my share, that’s for sure. In many instances I’ve given young people a second opportunity. I can’t think of an instance where it didn’t pan out and end up leading for some positive results for that particular young person. So that was disappointing because I know Eric really wanted to be here at Tennessee. He has done everything he needed to do in regard to finishing up school, being a graduate. All I can say is you’ve got to respect the process. No one was more devastated than Eric McKnight. Certainly it was another big blow for our team. Because Eric would have been our starting center. Absolutely. No question about it. You look at in the last month we have lost arguably our starting point guard and our starting center with already a very youthful, inexperienced team. Now you’re two scholarship players short. That’s frustrating. It really is.”

When asked if he had a clear understanding of why McKnight’s waiver was denied, Tyndall said he did not.

“I really can’t explain it. I wish I could.  I think that’s a question you probably have to ask the SEC people. I don’t want to get too, for lack of a better term, controversial here. I certainly, as I mentioned earlier, was disappointed with the decision. And I can’t answer what their thoughts were or why the decision was what it was. But if you happen to get those answers I sure would love to hear from you guys.”

3. On freshman guard Detrick Mostella receiving clearance from the NCAA …

“I felt very good about it from the very first day. Like I tried to tell everyone when I kept being asked about it. That’s just the nature of the NCAA Clearinghouse process. There are probably 25 to 30 percent of all college basketball players across the country right now that have yet to be cleared, because you get the last transcript or the last test score, which you take in the middle of June, and it takes four to six weeks to get everything processed. And then the football players with the NCAA are priorities because their season starts first. I was never concerned. I really wasn’t. It was just a matter of it running its course.”

Tyndall’s full interview will be uploaded here.


PG Braxton Bonds, former Liberty signee, listed in UT student directory


Update: Braxton Bonds has been released from his National Letter of Intent at Liberty University, team spokesman Todd Wetmore told the News Sentinel on Sunday evening.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – Point guard Braxton Bonds of Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville will join the Tennessee men’s basketball team as a walk-on, according to a Hoosier Sports Live report published Sunday.

The report focused on 2016 prospect Braxton Blackwell, and mentioned Bonds as a footnote that might help the Vols in their recruitment of Blackwell.

Bonds is currently listed in UT’s online student directory. Students start the fall semester August 20.

UT men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall declined to comment on Bonds on Sunday. The Bonds family and Christ Presbyterian Academy coach Drew Maddux have not responded to phone calls from the News Sentinel.

Joining the Vols would be a change of plans for Bonds, the nephew of retired MLB slugger Barry Bonds. He signed a National Letter of Intent with Liberty in November 2013. Liberty, a Division I program that is a member of the Big South Conference, does not list Bonds on its roster.

If Bonds is to be added as a walk-on, something will have to change. UT trimmed the men’s basketball roster to 13 scholarship positions and two walk-ons headed into the 2012-13 season. Tyndall already has two walk-ons — Brandon Lopez and Galen Campbell — on his roster. He said Sunday those players will continue to be walk-ons.

A true point guard, Bonds could offer some help at a position of need. Scouting service 247 Sports ranked the three-star prospect as the No. 8 player in Tennessee for the 2014 class.

And then there is the potential Blackwell effect. UT is one of many schools chasing the four-star forward who also plays for Christ Presbyterian Academy. The Vols might become more appealing to Blackwell if Bonds does in fact join the team in some capacity.


Butch Bytes: Vols football coach talks Weatherd, weights and patience


KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — WNML is broadcasting from Neyland Stadium on Wednesday as UT hosts its “Meet Your Seats” event. Tennessee football coach Butch Jones made an appearance on the Doc, Jeff and Heather Show in the morning. Listen to the full interview here. Some highlights are transcribed below.

On linebacker Chris Weatherd: “He’s going to have a lot of catching up to do. We have to get him in shape, both mentally and physically. But you know, he is one of those individuals who can run, who has the explosiveness that we need out of our linebacking corps. Again, it should be another piece in the overall depth.”

On team’s strength and conditioning: “If we were sitting right at this table doing this show a year ago, we had zero players — and we were a veteran group — who could squat over 600 pounds. After last night we are up to 11. We were nine. Now we’re 11. We’re making great strides in our football program. They’ve had a great offseason.”

On team’s youth: “When you look at the time demands of an individual, from eight hours of study hall a week, a full 15 credit hour workload academically. You have practice that’s three and a half to four hours, rehabilitation, rest, recovery, nutrition. All that goes through a young person’s mind. Going through it the first time, it becomes overwhelming. What are we going to do to kind of ease the burdens? The great thing is 14 out of the 32 did it in spring football. It’s definitely going to be a mentorship this season.”

On A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Mack Crowder attending SEC Football Media Days: “All three of them, it was their first SEC media day. It was a little bit of a wakeup call that everyone around the country knows anything and everything about them and Tennessee football. I had them stand up in the team meeting and give them a report on what they learned throughout that day at media day.”

On his message to UT fans: “We’re embarking on a journey together. We win together. We cry together. We celebrate together. We are one Tennessee. Our fan base is one of the major reasons why we are recruiting as well as we are. Because of their passion. It’s going to be exciting for them because they are going to see the growth and maturation of this team develop throughout the course of the season. Our patience is going to be challenged. But their loyalty will be rewarded. I promise you that. We just need to stay the course together. There’s going to be many great days ahead of us.”

On ways to help UT’s inexperienced offensive line: “Everything, especially in this conference, is about team speed. Last year we completely lacked it. I think that’s evidenced by the amount of big splash or big plays. They were eliminated from our offense. Now they have the ability to throw a quick screen. Look around the country. What’s probably the most used football play? A quick screen. Spit the ball out on the perimeter and go one-on-one. We didn’t have that luxury last year. Now we have a little bit of that luxury. And we have to do a great job changing launch points and trying to eliminate pressure up front as much as we can.”

On the possibility of UT playing a neutral-site game in 2017: “We’re always looking to improve.  I can’t tell you one way or the other. But we are still exploring for that year as well.”


Live Updates: Butch Jones on ESPN’s Car Wash


KNOXVILLE, Tennessee —  Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is spending the day in Bristol, Conn., where he and seven other SEC coaches will go through gauntlet of interviews at ESPN headquarters. Jones is likely to appear on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN Radio throughout the day, and you can track his comings and goings here.

9:24 a.m. Touchdown. Jones is on the ground at ESPN headquarters.

10 a.m. Jones sits down with Adam Rittenberg, college football reporter for ESPN.com.

10:30 a.m. ESPN college football reporter Brett McMurphy, who is attending the car wash, reports via anonymous source that Tennessee will play West Virginia in Charlotte to open the 2018 season. That report has been out for a while. Tennessee has not confirmed. More on that here. 

It’s Official: UT announced the game with West Virginia. News is here.

12:45 p.m. Jones tapes a radio interview with ESPN’s Freddie Coleman.

1:50 p.m. More radio …

1:53 p.m. Not Jones related, but Arkansas coach Brett Bielema took a shot at former UT coach Lane Kiffin when asked about how much cheating is going on in college athletics.

2:22 Jones gets a feel for the SportsCenter set.

3 p.m.  Heavy-hitting stuff here. ESPN’s College Football crew is awarding every coach a celebrity lookalike. Jones got Sergeant Carter from Gomer Pyle.

 3:35 p.m. Jones appeared on ESPN News’ broadcast of SportsCenter. Some quotes …

On Recruiting:

“We are very excited. We were able to attract a class of 32. Out of those 32 signees, 14 were mid-year enrollees and really energized our football program. We talk about it all the time. Everything in life is about timing. We feel Tennessee is the right place at the right time.”

On UT’s 2014 Schedule:

“We have to be ready to start right from the get-go, and be game-ready. The first three opponents are bowl champions. They know how to win. For us, 50 percent of our football team will be going through their first collegiate season. So we have to focus on winning every moment. It’s exciting because we get to raise them. Our older players have done a great job really mentoring our younger players.”

On UT fans:

“Our fans are outstanding. When you’re at the University of Tennessee, one of the most storied college football programs in the country, you always have high expectations. And that’s what you want as a recruit, as a player and as a coach. It’s exciting for them (UT fans) because they get to watch now the transformation of these young players and watch them be raised. So, our fans have been great, and we’re looking forward to getting this thing started.”