Hoop Vols have classy class

If Tony Jones is right, Tennessee basketball fans will be treated to another outstanding run next season.

The Vols' associate head coach said UT's four signees will be ready to rock and roll when they arrive on campus in the fall.

Jones compared one signee to Bernard King. He used another's name in the same sentence with Magic Johnson. He called one a man child. And he said the other is remindful of a point guard who led Arkansas to a national championship.

How's that for a recruiting class?

Forward Duke Crews (6-7, 225) is the most decorated. The Player of the Year in the state of Virginia has been invited to the Michael Jordan Classic in New York and the Derby Classic in Louisville.

``He reminds us a little bit of Bernard King,'' Jones said of the greatest player in the history of UT basketball. ``He's a ‘tweener. He could play either the 3 or the 4. He's very strong, athletic, scores around the basket. He needs to improve on his 3-point shot but that's something he's working on.''

Crews was hurt in preseason practice when a teammate stepped on his thumb, an injury that required surgery. Crews was out about a month but ``came on like gangbusters'' when he returned, scoring a quadruple double during one game.

UT's staff first saw Crews at a Nike All-America camp in Indianapolis.

``Boy, he would be great in our system,'' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. ``Let's see if we can get involved.''

Jones was skeptical: ``Hey, how we gonna get involved with him? He's got North Carolina, Georgetown, Duke, everybody in America recruiting him.''

Pearl's advice: ``Invest a phone call.''

Crews remembered watching Pearl's Wisconsin-Milwaukee team in the NCAA Tournament last year and liked Pearl's style.

``He wanted to go someplace where he could make a difference and help bring a program back to its proper respectability throughout the country,'' Jones said.

Wayne Chism (6-9, 250) is a bruiser with a great lower body, but needs to improve his upper body strength.

``He's a man child right now,'' Jones said. ``Wayne possess a 3-point shot out to the top of the key. He could play the 4 or the 5 position. He can score around the basket. He's a tough, physical presence. He'll have a great career as a Tennessee Volunteer.''

Jones expects Chism to have a huge impact as a rebounder and inside defender. Jones said Crews and Chism have the talent to play in the NBA if they continue to improve and work on their games.

Marques Johnson (6-6, 205) and Josh Tabb (6-3, 180) will try to replace All-SEC C.J. Watson as the floor leader. Johnson came out of summer camps rated one of the top five point guards in the country.

``You see a guy over 6-5 and over 200 pounds and you say, `Wow, he's not the prototype point guard; he should be a 2 or a 3,''' Jones said. ``That's what they said about Magic Johnson. But I'm not trying to put him in that category. Marques is the odds-on favorite to come out on top (as the point guard).''

Jones thinks Johnson will eventually be as good a shooter as Watson.

``He's one of the hardest working recruits I've ever been associated with,'' Jones said. ``He'll do anything you ask him to do. If you ask him to go in the gym and shoot 500 to 1,000 jump shots a day, that's what he'll do. He's not going to be outworked.

``We envision him being the type of player C.J. Watson was for the Tennessee Vols and maybe even exceeding C.J.'s accomplishments.''

Asked Jones about Tabb and one word comes to mind: Toughness.

``He's just a tough son of a gun,'' Jones said. ``If you're in a fox hole, you want him with you. He's going to scrap. He's going to get it done.''

UT assistant Scott Edgar said Tabb reminds him of Corey Beck, Arkansas' point guard on its 1994 national championship team.

``Beck wasn't the most talented player on that Arkansas team, but he was the toughest and whenever his team competed against other teams, his team always won,'' Jones said. ``That embodies Josh Tabb. He can handle the basketball. He's very good at advance passing. And he's an in-your-face defender. To be a championship caliber team, you have to have players like Josh Tabb on the roster.''

While Watson was a 15-point scorer as a senior, UT hopes the new point guard won't have to score as many points with a better inside game and an improved Chris Lofton on the perimeter.

``We're not going to ask Marques Johnson to score 16-17 points a game like C.J. Watson needed to do,'' Jones said. ``We're going to ask him to take care of the basketball, to push it up the floor, to run our sets and to hit open shots off reversals.''

Tennessee hopes center Major Wingate sustains the momentum he had in the two NCAA Tournament games, when he averaged 15 points and 6.5 rebounds.

``Major was a force offensively,'' Jones said. ``Hopefully, Major will realize he needs to get in the gym in the spring and summer to keep building on what he's established. He's on the NBA general managers' radar right now. A lot of NBA people are asking about Major Wingate. A lot of our colleagues are saying, `Boy, Major played really well in the NCAA Tournament.'''

If Wingate can consistently play at a high level and the signees contribute as Jones hopes, Tennessee could repeat as East Division champions over the national champions, Florida.

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