Darius Thompson picks Vols

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Every basketball team is looking for a Stephen Curry. The head coach at Murfreesboro's Blackman High School thinks Tennessee may have found one.

Darius Thompson publicly confirmed tonight that he will play college basketball for the Vols, beginning next fall. He should provide much-needed help at the point-guard spot and much-needed scoring punch from the perimeter.

At 6-feet-4 and 185 pounds, Thompson is virtually identical in size to Curry, the seventh player chosen in the 2009 NBA Draft after leading the NCAA in scoring (28.6 points per game) and earning consensus first-team All-America honors as a junior at Davidson in 2008-09. Barry Wortman says the similarities go beyond their frames, however.

"Darius reminds me of Stephen Curry, as far as body type and game," Thompson's high school coach told InsideTennessee. "He doesn't handle the ball as well but he's probably a better passer than Stephen."

Thompson is such a good shooter and passer that Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin and associate head coach Tracy Webster showed up at Blackman High to meet with the talented prospect the day after he decommitted from Vanderbilt in mid-February.

"He's a throwback," Wortman said of Thompson. "He really knows how to play, has a great feel for the game. He has a nice skill level and shoots it really well — 45 percent from 3 and 56 percent from the field — plus he's a really, really good passer.

"He has great vision and a great feel for passing. That's the strength of his game. He's a legit 6-4, with point-guard skills and shooting-guard ability. He has a point-guard mentality, an old-school game and he's a throwback player."

Thompson literally came from nowhere this season. Lightly regarded entering his senior year at Blackman, he saw his recruitment blow up while leading the Blaze to a 30-0 record that ended with a loss in last week's state tournament. He was one of three finalists for Mr. Basketball in Tennessee — the other two being Vol signee Robert Hubbs (Dyer County) and Missouri signee Nick King (Memphis East).

One reason scouts fell in love with Thompson is that he combines the ball-handling skills of a point guard and the scoring prowess of a shooting guard. Still, his high school coach believes he'll be a lead guard in college.

"He's a pure point, and we had the ball in his hands a lot," Wortman said. "In halfcourt situations we got him off the ball some and ran some sets for him. But we wanted the ball in his hands in transition as much as we could because he's such a good passer. He's a point guard in transition and a point guard in the offense but he can play off the ball, as well."

Although Thompson averaged 16.3 points per game, he may be even better at setting up others, as his average of 6.4 assists per game in 2012-13 suggests.

"He can really, really pass it," Wortman said. "He makes his teammates better. He's also a good 3-point shooter, as well as being a really, really good finisher around rim."

As is the case with most high schoolers, Thompson needs some fine-tuning defensively.

"He's got good instinct and he's long," Wortman said. "Like all high school guys, he needs to improve his on-ball defense. I think gaining strength will help that. He has great instincts off the ball, and he has the intangibles to be a really good defender."

Thompson will sign with the Vols during the spring signing period (April 17-May 15). He seemingly has the tools to be a superior college point guard if he can become a little stronger and a little more vocal.

"He's going to have to develop his strength," Wortman said. "He's got to get stronger. That's an area of his game he needs to develop. He's 6-4, 185 and plays a little vertical. He needs to be a little more compact on offense and defense."

Thompson might need to develop a little more forceful personality if he's going to run a college offense, as well.

"He's a good leader but quiet," Wortman said. "He's one of those guys that's always about the team. He's not a real vocal leader but a good leader."

One reason Thompson's game is so polished is the expert instruction he got at an early age. His father, Lonnie, has posted more than 200 college wins and currently serves as head man at Cumberland University, an NAIA school located in Lebanon. That background may help Darius make his mark early at Tennessee.

"The fact he's a coach's son and he can practice in the summer, I think he'll be able to contribute as a freshman," Wortman said. "He's definitely got the skills to contribute as a freshman, especially if he can gain a little more strength."


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