Guarded optimism

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Tennessee's basketball program is getting a visit this weekend from the Class of 2014's No. 5 point-guard prospect, which his high school coach believes is about four spots too low.

"That won't be for long; he'll jump up to No. 1," Keith Gatlin told InsideTennessee.com by phone from High Point, N.C., where JaQuel Richmond is a sophomore at Wesleyan Christian Academy this fall.

So what makes the 6-foot, 165-pounder underrated as the No. 5 sophomore point guard in America?

"He's the best — a very, very talented player," Gatlin said. "He's a great kid who plays much bigger than six feet. He led us in every category last year — points, rebounds, assists, steals, everything. He led us in rebounds even though we had Montay Brandon, a 6-7 kid who committed to Florida State."

Richmond averaged 19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals per game as a mere freshman last season. The closest thing he has to a weakness may be his outside shot, and it has been getting plenty of attention in recent months.

"His shot is becoming much better," Gatlin said. "He's been working on his shot with me all spring and summer."

A point guard can go a long way without a deadly jump shot if he handles the ball and passes it well enough. Former Kentucky standout Rajon Rondo is a perfect example. He's a career 24.2-percent shooter from 3-point range for the Boston Celtics, yet he's viewed as one of the NBA's premier point guards.

Richmond's high school coach has noticed similarities.

"I call JaQuel 'Rondo' but he plays like Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets) with his leaping ability," Gatlin said. "He's got a 38-inch vertical jump and he's fast. He has five gears. He's incredible, and he's getting recruited by everybody."

Therein lies the rub. The schools pursuing the elite point guard include perennial powerhouse Duke, located just 45 minutes from Wesleyan Christian's campus. The fact Richmond recently described himself as "a huge Duke guy" suggests he'll opt for the Blue Devils if they decide to offer a scholarship.

Tennessee head man Cuonzo Martin is fighting the good fight, however, and has at least an outside shot to reel in Richmond.

"Tennessee's doing a great job on him," Gatlin said. "Coach Cuonzo's a great guy, and (assistant) coach (Kent) Williams also has been recruiting him and doing a great job."

The Vols also are in the hunt for Wesleyan Christian Academy's Theo Pinson, a 6-5 sophomore who is rated Scout.com's No. 2 small forward for the Class of 2014.

"Theo's a very big talent," Gatlin said. "He's long, very athletic, very skilled. When he gets stronger lifting weights he's going to be a special player. We're going at a different pace than he's used to as far as lifting and things. Once he gets used to that I think the sky's the limit."

Interestingly enough, there's a chance Pinson and Richmond will attend the same college.

"They've talked about it," Gatlin said.


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