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.