Battle tested

Most high school post prospects face a difficult adjustment when they start encountering 6-10, 250-pounders at the college level. That should not be the case for Tennessee's newest signee, however.

Yemi Makanjuola, a 6-9 prospect from Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., is now confirmed as Tennessee's fifth addition of the spring signing period. He actually signed more than a week ago but could not be listed as a Vol until the school received scholarship papers co-signed by his mother back in Lagos, Nigeria.

Makanjuola (pronounced MACK-in-JEW-luh) spent the 2010-11 season battling 6-10, 250-pound teammate Joseph Uchebo in practice every day. Those confrontations with Uchebo, a Div. 1 prospect who started ahead of Makanjuola, surely aided in Yemi's development.

"That's a great observation," Word of God head coach Quentin Jackson told InsideTennessee by phone. "I tell my guys, 'Our practices are going to be harder than most games.' The fact he was going against a guy like Joseph every day elevated his game. It elevated Joseph's play, as well. They both got better by facing each other."

Uchebo originally committed to North Carolina State but could not qualify academically and is now headed for junior college.

The addition of Makanjuola helps offset the loss of Tennessee's top two centers from 2010-11 - Brian Williams (6-10, 270) and John Fields (6-9, 240).

"Yemi is 6-9, 245 pounds," Vol head man Cuonzo Martin said in a UT release. "He has a really good frame, and he's only going to get bigger and stronger. I really like how hard he competes. He plays a physical brand of basketball, he runs the floor well and he's a good shot blocker. He continues to improve offensively. I think he's capable of big things, and I'm excited about having him join our program."

Makanjuola is expected to battle rising junior Kenny Hall and junior college transfer Dwight Miller for playing time at center this season. Though a bit raw, Makanjuola reportedly has a lot of potential.

"The things he does best are rebound, block shots and sacrifice for the benefit of the team," Jackson said. "He's a center. He's a paint type of player."

Jackson said Makanjuola averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots per game in helping the Holy Rams go 24-3 in private-school competition last season, adding: "You've got to keep that in perspective. Our average win was by about 30 points, so he got limited playing time."

Like most high school big men, Makanjuola needs a lot of work on his offensive game. He reportedly is already a force on defense, however.

"As far as defending, rebounding and blocking shots, he's going to do very well, especially when he picks up another 15-20 pounds on that college regimen," Jackson said. "I think he'll be a big-time defender when it comes to the paint."

The coach described Makanjuola as "a good kid," adding: "I only had him for a year but what he did for us as a reserve enabled him to go to a high major (on scholarship), which tells you a lot about him. He worked hard every day in practice and was always in the gym afterward trying to get better."

Makanjuola spent the 2009-10 season at high-profile Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., before transferring to Word of God for his senior season. Word of God's alumni include John Wall, the former Kentucky superstar who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Makanjuola also considered Indiana before choosing Tennessee. Asked how soon the player might be a factor for the Vols, Jackson replied: I think it's based on the coaches' ability to develop a big man. The size is there, the skill is there and the desire is there.

"It's going to depend on how well the coaches can bring him along. If they do a good job, it could happen expeditiously."


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