Vols Make Run at Philly Forward

Last year at this time Tennessee picked up a prospect who fell through the cracks and then watched him go on to break the freshman record for three-point shooting.

This year the Vols are again looking for late help at forward in light of Tyler Smith's defection, and 6-foot-8, 215-pound Maurice Thomas might just be the man for the job.

Like Chris Lofton, who came from the basketball mad Bluegrass State, Thomas comes from the hardwood hotbed of Philly where he helped pace Philadelphia Lutheran Christian to a 31-3 mark and the nation's No. 5 ranking.

Thomas reportedly made a commitment to UTEP before backing out in favor of an offer from UNLV. Now he's reexamining his options and he's finding some golden opportunities, which resulted from his performance in the Real Deal on the Hill AAU Tournament played in Fayetteville, Ark., recently. So impressive was Thomas that he's drawing interest from ACC heavyweights Wake Forest and North Carolina. Tennessee coaches also liked what they saw and extended an official visit which he plans to take this weekend.

"After that the new schools I heard from were Tennessee, Wake Forest and North Carolina," Thomas told Inside Carolina's Eric Bossi. "They are looking at me for the class of 2005, I was thinking about reclassifying — but I don't know yet."

Should he forego the prep school route, Tennessee could be in prime position for the rebound, given the gaping hole Smith left in the Class of 2005 and a system tailor made to Thomas' talents.

Active and quick around the basket, Thomas runs the floor well and is a competent mid-range shooter. He has the type of athleticism and long frame to be a good press defender in addition to a scoring threat.

"Energy, rebounding and scoring is my game," he said. "I'll do whatever it takes. I just need to be more consistent from the outside."

Thomas also needs work on his ball handling, but that's not unusual for a high school player his size. He is a combo forward who could play either on the wing or in the paint which makes him a valuable commodity.

Thomas' high school teammate, Khalil Hartwell, a 6-7, forward, has already signed with UT Chattanooga. In addition to Tennessee, Thomas is hearing from Marquette, Southern Cal, Wake Forest and he still has standing offers from UTEP and UNLV.

Signing Thomas might not make up for the loss of Smith, but if he has the type of impact Lofton did as a rookie, the Giles County forward will hardly be missed.

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