New Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes is in just his third day on the job but he already is significantly upgrading the Vols’ recruiting efforts. He appears to have a good shot at landing three highly touted players when the spring signing period commences April 15.
-Ray Kasongo, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound junior college power forward from College of Southern Idaho.
-Marcus LoVett, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound point guard from Morgan Park High in Chicago.
Kasongo signed with Oregon out of high school and met NCAA Clearinghouse standards but inexplicably was denied admission by the school. Opting for the JUCO route, he started seven of 34 games for Southern Idaho in 2014-15, including the last five. He averaged just 15.6 minutes per game but produced 6.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per contest. Projected over a 31-minute span, he would average 12 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. He shot a strong 59.2 percent from the field but just 41.3 percent from the foul line.
Kasongo showed flashes of scoring potential several times during his JUCO season. His best outings came Nov. 1 against Impact Academy (9 of 13 field goals, 18 points in 16 minutes), Jan. 2 versus Idaho Select (7 of 10 field goals, 14 points in 19 minutes), Jan. 2 versus Colorado Northwestern (5 of 5 field goals, 11 points in 13 minutes) and Feb. 12 in a rematch with Colorado Northwestern (6 of 11 field goals, 14 points in 19 minutes).
Because Kasongo has three seasons of eligibility remaining, the recruiting competition for him is intense. Newly hired Mississippi State coach Ben Howland is in hot pursuit. So is Ole Miss’ Andy Kennedy. LSU’s Johnny Jones desperately needs Kasongo now that the Tigers’ talented post tandem of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin is jumping to the NBA ahead of schedule. UNLV, Kansas State and Seton Hall are pressing for a commitment, as well.
Tennessee also faces stiff challenges in its quest to land Eubanks. Rated a four-star recruit, the No. 15 shooting guard and No. 54 overall prospect by Scout, he also is being courted by Oregon, UCLA, Georgia and Missouri. Barnes offered him a scholarship while at Texas, and the Longhorns still may be in pursuit now that Shaka Smart is in charge of the program.
Scout director of recruiting Evan Daniels rated Eubanks No. 2 in a recent article entitled “Top 5 available SGs.” Here’s what Daniels had to say about him:
“Kobie Eubanks was supposed to be playing basketball for Baylor this season. But due to complications with a transcript, Eubanks was forced to do a post-graduate season at Delray Beach (Fla.) Elev-8 Prep. A 6-foot-5, 210-pound wing, Eubanks is a strong, physical scorer. He’s a good shooter off the catch, can get to mid-range and make shots, but also has developed a post game.”
LoVett was recruited by Tennessee’s previous coaching staff but the Vols never managed to gain much traction with him. Known as “Bright Lights,” he began his career at San Gabriel Academy in California before moving to the Windy City.
LoVett reportedly averaged a mind-boggling 31.7 points per game as a freshman and 33.9 as a sophomore. With a better supporting cast around him, he “slipped” to 22.7 points per game as a junior but raised his assist average from 2.3 to 5.6 that season. Heading into his senior year he carried a 28.4 points-per-game scoring average and a 4.1 assist average.
Rated a four-star recruit, the No. 14 point guard and No. 92 overall prospect, he gets high marks from Scout’s recruiting experts. Their evaluation is as follows:
“LoVett has a lot of street baller to his game. He’s a big-time ball-handler that can get wherever he wants on the court. LoVett’s mid-range game is incredibly difficult for opponents to stop. Sometimes he chooses to pass more than others but when he does he has exceptional vision. Lovett’s ultimate success will depend on his commitment to playing the right way and using his skills to help his team win.”
LoVett’s strengths are listed as “ball-handling, big-time scorer and passing.”