Jon Harris keeps busy

In the week since he was hired, Tennessee basketball aide Jon Harris is finding the facilities "beautiful" and the returning players "excited." The next task is finding some recruits.

Five key members of the 2010-11 Vol squad, including starters Brian Williams and Melvin Goins, have exhausted their eligibility. Two more starters - rising senior Scotty Hopson and rising sophomore Tobias Harris - are mulling jumps to the NBA. Moreover, November signees Chris Jones and Kevin Ware may opt for different programs now that Bruce Pearl has been fired.

That's why Harris, 30, who was new Vol head man Cuonzo Martin's lead assistant last season at Missouri State, needed only a split-second when asked to pinpoint the biggest challenge facing the new staff.

"Identifying talent in the region from a recruiting standpoint," he said. "We'll have two to six scholarships, depending on how things play out. It's a matter of identifying guys and building that relationship."

Since the spring signing period starts next week, there isn't much time for Martin, Harris and Kent Williams to evaluate and identify prospects, much less build relationships with them. Harris says recruiting is recruiting, though, whether it's at Missouri State or at Tennessee.

"I really don't think it will be a whole lot different," he said. "Obviously, the caliber of talent that you're trying to identify will be different. But, as far as your approach, it'll be the same: You're just trying to find good people."

Good people with specific body types and skill sets, to be specific.

"Athletically, we're looking for guys that have good length, have good athleticism, guys that can move," Harris said. "We want guys with versatility, offensively and defensively. From a defensive standpoint, we want guys that can guard several different positions, move their feet. We'll switch on ball screens, so guys 1 (point guard) through 4 (power forward) really have to be able to move. Our 5 (center) has got to be a runner.

"You want good athleticism but, off the court, you want good people. You want guys you don't have to worry about being in trouble at night - in the dorms, in the streets, in the bars and all of that kind of stuff. You want guys that have a solid foundation."

Pearl routinely signed players who did not fit his uptempo system, eventually forcing him to slow down his system. Asked if the new staff will recruit to fit the system or fit the system to the recruits, Harris smiled.

"I think you have to do both," he said. "I think the best programs do both. Obviously, you're trying to identify guys that fit a need but, at the same time, you're trying to get as good a talent as you can get."

Harris played college ball at Marquette, where he was team captain as a junior and senior. After assisting at his alma mater for one year, he spent five years as an aide at Wisconsin-Green Bay before joining Martin's staff at Missouri State three years ago.

Although his first week in Knoxville has been hectic, Harris is encouraged by what he has seen of Big Orange Country so far.

"Things have been great to this point," he said. "I think it's really set up for you to have success here. There's beautiful facilities, the community is very nice and we've got a good group of kids in our program. I'm very impressed to this point."

Because the players loved the flamboyant Pearl, they were stunned and hurt when he was fired on March 21. Some healing appears to be taking place, however.

"I think the guys are excited," Harris said. "They've been really good to this point. They've been receptive to Coach Martin and our staff, and I think they're really looking forward to getting going."


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