As fate would have it, April 21, 2004 would prove to be one of the greatest days in the history of Big Orange basketball. The too-small, too-slow guard from Maysville, Ky., turned out to be the greatest shooter in Vol history. His name was Chris Lofton, and all he did was make first-team All-SEC and second-team All-America three years in a row, shoot 42.2 percent from 3-point range and make more treys (431) than anyone in Southeastern Conference history.
Since hitting the jackpot with Lofton, however, Tennessee's luck with spring signees has been mostly bad. The vast majority of quality prospects sign in November each year, leaving slim pickin's for the spring signing period.
Even four-star recruits Ramar Smith and Emmanuel Negedu contributed little at Tennessee before moving on. That means history is not on the side of new Vol head man Donnie Tyndall, who has no choice but to add some signees this spring now that attrition has reduced his roster to seven scholarship players.
Here's a brief look at Tennessee's recent struggles with spring signees:
Ryan Childress: This 6-foot-9 Cincinnati native, the first signee of the Bruce Pearl era, had an underwhelming career as a Vol. Starting just one game in four years, "Chilly" averaged 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He appeared to be blossoming as a sophomore – shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3 while averaging 15.7 minutes, 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He couldn't build on that promise, however, and spent his entire senior year in Pearl's doghouse, playing in just four games all season.
Tony Passley: After signing with Pearl at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he tried to follow him to Tennessee. The NCAA still made him sit out a transfer year, which he spent at junior college. Ultimately, the delayed arrival didn't matter. The 6-foot-5 Passley made no impact when he enrolled in 2006-07, averaging just 1.8 points and 6.8 minutes per game in 17 games before leaving school.
Ramar Smith: A four-star recruit who held off signing till spring to await better offers, this 6-foot-2 combo guard improved dramatically the second half of his freshman year, helping lead the Vols within one basket of the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. He regressed as a sophomore, however, lost his job as the starting point guard and transferred out at season's end.
No spring signees.
Daniel West: After leading Saginaw (Mich.) High to back-to-back state titles, he appeared to be Tennessee's point guard of the future. He was ineligible as a Vol freshman, then left after paying his way for a year. Supposedly, he had his scholarship pulled by Pearl, who apparently gave it to JUCO point guard Melvin Goins the following spring.
Emmanuel Negedu: Whereas most spring signees are borderline recruits or late bloomers, Negedu was a prized prospect with a four-star ranking who signed in November of 2008 with Arizona but received a release when the school endured some coaching turmoil. He averaged just 1.9 points per game as a Vol freshman, however, then was ruled medically ineligible by UT as a sophomore after a congenital heart problem was discovered. Refusing to accept the diagnosis, he transferred to New Mexico, where he played in just 10 games before team doctors there convinced him to retire.
Melvin Goins: Fresh from Mount San Jacinto Community College, he backed up Bobby Maze at point guard as a junior in 2009-10, averaging 5.3 points and 16 minutes per game. Assuming the first-team job as a senior in 2010-11, the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder posted 7.9 points and 2.8 assists per contest. Basically, Goins was serviceable.
John Fields: Tennessee's first-ever post-graduate transfer, the 6-foot-9 Fields came to the Vols as a fifth-year senior after getting a degree from UNC Wilmington in the summer of 2010. He started 18 of 34 games for the 2010-11 Vols but contributed more as a post defender (41 blocks) than as a scorer (2.6 points per game) or rebounder (3.0 per game).
Wes Washpun: Inheriting a roster riddled by the departure of four key seniors plus star underclassmen Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, first-year coach Cuonzo Martin signed five warm bodies. The first of these was Washpun, an athletic but raw point guard from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He proved to be a turnover waiting to happen, forcing Martin to use wings as backups to starting point guard Trae Golden the last half of the 2011-12 season. Washpun produced almost as many turnovers (15) as points (16) in his lone season as a Vol, then transferred out.
Josh Richardson: Though rated a mere two-star prospect by Scout, the 6-foot-6 wing from Edmond, Okla., proved to be a spring steal. After averaging 2.9 points per game as a Vol freshman, he started at small forward as a sophomore in 2012-13 and averaged 7.9 points per game. He blossomed as a junior, averaging 10.3 points per game and finishing second on the team in steals (27), third in blocks (30) and fifth in assists (56).
Quinton Chievous: Son of former University of Missouri star Derrick Chievous, Quinton redshirted as a freshman, then saw mop-up action in 2012-13 and 2013-14. He has not decided whether or not to return to the Vols for the 2014-15 season.
Yemi Makanjuola: He didn't even start for his prep school team (Word of God Christian Academy in North Carolina) but Martin was so desperate for inside help that he signed the 6-foot-9, 245-pounder anyway. Makanjuola produced 18 points and 11 rebounds in an amazing 13-minute relief stint against The Citadel as a true freshman but that was the lone highlight of an otherwise nondescript career. He left the program after averaging 2.3 points per game as a freshman and 1.6 as a sophomore.
Dwight Miller: Martin's desperation for post help showed up again with the signing of Miller, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound JUCO from Midland (Texas) College. Miller averaged 2.4 points per game playing mop-up roles in 2011-12 and missed his entire senior season with a knee injury.
Armani Moore: After a failed experiment at point guard, this 6-foot-5 acrobat has flourished since making the move to small forward. Although somewhat limited on the offensive end, he has provided some highlight-reel exploits with his spectacular blocks on the defensive end. After starting 13 times as a freshman, Moore filled the sixth-man role as a sophomore. He projects to be a full-time starter as a junior in 2014-15.
Darius Thompson: Originally committed to Vanderbilt, this 6-foot-5 point guard reneged and signed with Tennessee last spring. Although he spent most of 2013-14 backing up senior Antonio Barton, he managed to earn 10 starts. Thompson recorded 87 assists last season, despite averaging just 16.8 minutes per outing. With Barton gone, Thompson projects to be a full-time starter in 2014-15.
Rawane Ndiaye: This 6-foot-10, 280-pounder was a little-used reserve for Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College but Martin signed him based on size and potential. Ndiaye shed probably 25 pounds but scarcely saw the floor as a junior in 2013-14. Playing just 3.3 minutes per game, he averaged 0.9 points and 1.0 rebound per contest.
Antonio Barton: Rather than spend another year stuck behind University of Memphis point guard Joe Jackson, Barton joined the Big Orange as a post-graduate transfer in the summer of '13. He started 28 of 37 games at point guard but averaged just 2.0 assists per game. He shot a chilly 37.3 percent from the field in producing 7.6 points per game.
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