Pearl Pursues Perfect Post

Big, strong, athletic leaper with the transition ability to start the fastbreak on one end of the floor and finish it with a flourish on the other. Quick hands on defense and a deft touch on the jump hook around the basket. Plenty of game to grow in an up-tempo system.

That description sounds like a classified ad placed by Tennessee head basketball coach Bruce Pearl in search of the ideal center prospect. Instead, it's a summary of 6-foot-9, 235-pound J.J. Hickson, a five-star center prospect from Wheeler High School in Marrietta, Ga., who is ranked No. 3 at his position nationally by as well as No. 21 overall.

As a member of the Worldwide Renegades, Hickson took his game up a notch against the best competition and in the most prestigious gatherings the AAU and summer season had to offer. Here are some of the rave reviews he received:

• "This young man, because of his length, rebounding and natural gifts, has a chance to be a Top 10 player in this class. It's an exclusive group but it's not out of the realm of possibility that he join it... At nearly 6-foot-9, he's a load. He's long, moves well and gets himself to the line. To crack that Top 10 status would take some consistently dominating efforts on the circuit; nothing he isn't fully capable of doing by the way." — National Recruiting Director Dave Telep after seeing Hickson on the first day of competition at The Real Deal on the Hill AAU tournament played in Fayetteville, Ark.

• "Hickson is athletic and already has some go-to post moves. His jump hook is nice and he likes a little contact. When he wants to be a good rebounder he is, because of his length and athleticism. He has cemented himself as one of the top 15 or so players in his class. — Evan Daniels, basketball recruiting editor, after watching Hickson play in the King James Shooting Star Classic.

• "Even though he hasn't scored tons of points here, Hickson is an active presence on the glass with great second effort. Ready to play every time he steps between the lines." — Russ Blake, senior reporter with NewYorkInsider covering the ABCD Camp held in Teaneck, N.J.

• "Hickson was the most impressive player on the day. He had a monster first half with 17 points and four dunks. In the second half he scored just four points and his team could not pull out the win, falling 54-47 to the Florida Rams. Hickson was very explosive in the post and did a good job of getting in the open court." — CanesTimes Publisher Christopher Stock reporting on the Breakdown Hoops Festival held in Miami, Fla.

As a junior at Wheeler, Hickson averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per contest and he finished the season with 78 blocked shots to help pace his team to the state semifinals. One of the best appraisals of his ability comes from the man who has seen him play more than anyone else this summer, his AAU head coach Chris Johnson.

"J.J. is probably one of the best big men in the country – he's got a real nice shot to 15 or 16 feet and he can finish down low," Johnson explained. "He's really the complete package because he can make free throws, he's strong and he's athletic."

There has been a lot of buzz about Hickson for the last couple of years, but he appears to have discovered the intensity level this summer that some felt was lacking before.

"I feel I came a long way," Hickson told Telep. "I didn't luck into this. I've been working hard in the gym. It feels good to see where I came from last year to this year. I watch tapes from last year and my game is different. My demeanor on the court, the way I play, I'm not lackadaisical."

There has been nothing languid about way colleges are pursuing J.J., especially the coaches at Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina State which Hickson credits with recruiting him the hardest. He plans to take official visits to those three schools this fall and will chose two other official visits from among Georgetown, Arizona, Kentucky and Illinois. All of his seven finalists have offered according to Hickson.

Reading Hickson's criteria for choosing a school there is little doubt Tennessee would fit him to a T.

"I want to come in and work hard and earn my playing," he said. "It would be them having a big man before me who is really good and me coming in as a freshman and knowing I'll have some big shoes to fill. Not so much as a replacement but I want to live up to expectations of me coming in as a freshman and playing."

Hickson will start receiving in-home visits in September and is currently coordinating his visit schedule. Wherever he visits this fall, he's sure to be the center of attention.

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