Tariq to Tennessee

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Tennessee's newest basketball signee is a lanky shot-blocker whose AAU coach compares him to a former No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick.

Tariq Owens made it official today, picking the Vols over Temple and Tennessee-Martin. The 6-foot-10½, 215-pounder from Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore has tremendous upside, according to Dwayne Wise, head coach of the Baltimore's Finest traveling squad.

"He reminds of a poor man's Anthony Davis," Wise told InsideTennessee. "He was 6-1 coming into high school, and when I first got him he was 6-7. Now he's 6-10½, so he grew nine inches in high school. He reminds me of Anthony Davis because of the way he can handle the ball and the way he can impact the game with his shot-blocking and his shooting from outside."

Davis earned first-team All-America honors as a freshman at Kentucky in 2011-12, then opted for the NBA. The first player picked in the 2012 draft, he is establishing himself as a budding star for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Like Davis, Owens combines the length to play the 5 position (center) with the agility to play the 4 (power forward).

"He's a hybrid 4," Wise said. "He's a little thin but you'll be surprised with his toughness. He catches everything and he runs like a deer. He can shoot left-handed or right-handed. He's equal with both hands. That makes it tough to get a good read on him because he's explosive off both feet."

Scout recruiting analysts Evan Daniel and Brian Snow believe the Vols got themselves a quality prospect in young Owens.

"Tariq is a kid with a lot of natural ability," Snow said. "He is long and athletic, blocks shots, will rebound, and can hit jumpers from the mid-range. He needs to get stronger and continue to develop his offensive game, but there are some definite tools to work with."

Daniels agrees, noting: "I've been very impressed with Owens' mobility, athleticism and ability to get his hands on shots. For his size, he has a nice set of hands, good touch around the basket and is capable of making mid-range shots."

Rodrick Harrison, Owens' head coach at Mt. Shiloh Prep in Baltimore last winter, said his star player averaged "about 15 points, about 10 rebounds and 4½ blocks" in 2013-14. His AAU coach believes Owens' breakout performance may have come last summer.

"We played against Virginia Assault," Wise recalled, "and Tyriq had about 23 points, 8 blocks and 11 rebounds. That's when I knew he was going to be a great player."

Whereas a lot of "bigs" tend to pace themselves, Owens plays the game with hustle on every possession.

"The motor separates him from a lot of kids," Wise said. "He plays with energy and doesn't get tired. He's diving on the floor, blocking shots and still can shoot. He's like (Oklahoma City Thunder superstar) Kevin Durant in that way: He'll do anything he can to help his team win."

One thing Tariq Owens does to help his team win is protect the basket. Even when he isn't blocking a shot, he's forcing an opponent to rush it or change its trajectory.

"What makes Tariq so special is his ability to change the game defensively with what he brings to the table athletically," Wise said. "He's a naturally great shot-blocker. He's really good at changing the game defensively, protecting the rim and blocking shots. And he can face up (for perimeter shots) out to about 19 feet."

Rated a three-star recruit by Scout, Owens might be a five-star prospect if he had more meat on his bones.

"He's about 15 to 20 pounds from being a great player," Wise said, "no matter the conference."

Owens is the eighth player to cast his lot with new Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall this spring. Already signed are 6-foot-9 transfer Eric McKnight (Florida Gulf Coast), 6-foot-8 Willie Carmichael (Apopka, Fla.), 6-foot-8 Jabari McGhee (Hargrave Military Academy), 6-foot-5 JUCO Devon Baulkman (Gulf Coast State College), 6-foot-4 JUCO All-American Kevin Punter (State Fair Community College), 6-foot-3 Detrick Mostella (Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts) and 6-foot-1 transfer Ian Chiles (IUPUI).

With rising sophomore point guard Darius Thompson transferring from Tennessee to Virginia, the Vols are at the NCAA limit of 13 scholarship players. Rising senior post Rawane Ndiaye is believed to be leaving the program, as well, which would open up one more scholarship.

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