Pearl Making Progress in Memphis

Logically speaking, it should be easier for the Vols to sign basketball prospects out of east and middle Tennessee than out of Memphis, but the Bluff City area is where Coach Bruce Pearl and staff appear to be making serious inroads and the payoff could be coming sooner rather than later.

Bolivar's Wayne Chism has announced the Vols are one of his five finalists along with SEC teams Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi State. Chism, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound, power forward is rated No. 16 at his position nationally by and averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a junior at Bolivar Central.

Chism's stock took a dramatic rise after he turned in a superb defensive performance in the Real Deal on the Hill AAU tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., last spring, while matched up against Greg Oden of Indiana, who is regarded by many as the No. 1 prospect in the country.

Chism averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds per game for Memphis Pump & Run and is seen as an ideal fit for Pearl's up-tempo offense and attacking defensive scheme. His long arms, quick feet and aggressive style potentially should allow Chism effectively trap the ball and flourish in transition.

Chism's teammate Willie Kemp is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard who is rated the nation's No. 5 play maker by Kemp sees the floor well and is a proven penetrator. He can score off the dribble or pull up and take the medium-range jumper. He's making good progress on improving his shooting range. Kemp averaged 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game as a junior. His list of finalists includes Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

There has been speculation about Chism and Kemp continuing as teammates at the next level. If that was to happen it would likely be for Tennessee or Arkansas since those are the only two schools on each of their list of finalists.

"If we do it is cool," Chism told's Yancey Porter, "and if we do not, it is no problem."

As impressive as Chism and Kemp are as players neither is the top prospect in Memphis. That honor goes to Thaddeus Young of Mitchell Road High School, who is listed by as the nation's No. 2 small forward prospect. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound, Young averaged 35 points and 18 rebounds per game as a sophomore and he led his AAU squad to the national title game as a junior. He carries a 4.0 GPA and is regarded as perhaps the most versatile prospect in the country.

Young recently narrowed his list of favorites from 13 to seven. That updated list includes: Tennessee, Arkansas, Duke, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Memphis and North Carolina. Surviving the latest cut and remaining a viable contender is a definite coup for Tennessee's basketball staff.

Another top 100 prospect in Memphis that Tennessee is a finalists for is Ridgeway High School combo forward Pierre Niles, who is listed No. 19 by among players at his position. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Niles has excellent ball skills and a big, physical frame. He scored 27 points in a match-up against Young last season and was named one of the top five prospects at the 2003 Hoop Jamboree. He led Ridgeway to the Class-AAA state championship, picking up tournament MVP honors after scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the 64-42 victory over Jackson Northside. Niles' list of finalists includes: Tennessee, Arkansas and Memphis.

Pearl's decision to hire Scott Edgar, a proven recruiter with solid credentials in the Memphis high school coaching fraternity, appears to be paying dividends.

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