'Hidden gem'

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The Tennessee basketball team's 71-65 setback at College of Charleston on Dec. 14 wasn't a total loss: The Vols dropped a game but they eventually gained a commitment.

Armani Moore, a 6-foot-5 senior at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw, Ga., was thought to be a Cougar lock, so many schools stopped recruiting him. When he showed up uncommitted at the Tennessee-College of Charleston game last December, however, Vol recruiters quickly got him back on their radar.

"Tennessee called the day after he visited Charleston," Mount Paran head coach Scott Varner told InsideTennessee by phone. "They thought he had committed to Charleston because Charleston was after him from the get-go and he formed a great relationship with Coach (Bobby) Cremins. When schools found out he wasn't signed or committed, my phone began ringing off the hook."

Cremins stepped down Monday after six seasons at Charleston, and Moore committed to the Vols within 24 hours.

Counting November signees Derek Reese and D'montre Edwards, Tennessee does not have any scholarships available for its 2012 signing class. That means a Vol with eligibility remaining will not be returning for next season.

Regardless, Moore has given his pledge to play for the Vols after concluding a standout senior season that saw him average 22 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 2.6 steals per game. He played his freshman, sophomore and junior years at Swainsboro (Ga.) High, then transferred to Mount Paran to work on his academics.

"The first thing I would say about Armani is that he is a fabulous kid," Varner said. "He has incredible character. He's probably the best kid I've ever been around, and I've been in coaching nine years now.

"My three-year-old daughter was really sick earlier this year. Armani called the house and asked to speak to her, just to see how she was doing. She's so impressed with him that she prays for him every night."

Moore's biography sounds familiar. It's a lot like that of Tennessee head man Cuonzo Martin.

"He's got a story real similar to Coach Martin's," Varner said. "He came from a broken home, raised by his mom. She didn't want him to sign early (last November), wanted him to wait. Out of respect for her, he waited. In mid-January he looked me in the eye and said, 'Coach, aren't we glad we waited!'"

Varner believes Tennessee's coach and its newest commitment are a perfect fit.

"Armani and I visited unofficially for the Kentucky game, and what impressed me most about Coach Martin was that his demeanor and countenance are unbelievable," Varner said. "He is a class guy, and you can tell he wants the class kid, the quality kid. I think he's trying to get the program cleaned."

Although Tennessee's 2011-12 season ended with a disappointing second-round NIT loss Monday night, the Vols' 19-15 overall record and 10-6 SEC record exceeded preseason expectations.

"I think he got more out of the kids this year than anybody could have," Varner said. "I think he's a great fit for Tennessee in terms of his character. I think he's a great coach and a great man, and I think he'll be a great mentor for Armani."

Moore played every position on the floor at Mount Paran but projects to be a guard in college.

"Some schools looked at him as a point guard but most see him as a combo guard," Varner said. "His strength is his ability to create off the dribble. He's a great finisher and he has a great mid-range jumper, one of the best I've seen in a long time."

The coach said Moore shot 39 percent from 3-point range this season and "definitely expanded his range as the year went on. He's also a very good defensive player, which is what I think Coach Martin likes about him."

Like most of Martin's previous Vol signees, Moore has flown under the national radar. Varner says that's easily explained.

"It's so hard for a lot of people to understand how dynamic he is," the high school coach said. "He doesn't have much around him, in terms of Div. I talent. He had to do a lot for us -- things he won't have to do at the college level. There were times I had him playing as my 4 or 5 man, and he posted up well for us.

"I think they've gotten a hidden gem. He's flown under so many people's radar because of the Charleston thing but I think he's got the ability to have an impact because he's a workaholic. He's worked really hard here because we have tough academic standards. And he's a kid that I think has the college body. He's a weight-room kid. He'll get the strength and muscle he needs quickly."

Varner attended Lee College on a golf scholarship but has been a lifelong Vol fan. He's thrilled that his protege will be representing the Big Orange.

"I'm excited to see what he and the program will do," the high school coach said. "My wife and I have season tickets for Tennessee football. Now we're going to have to get up there for more basketball games."


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