J.J. Stays Away

There's good news and bad news on Tennessee's basketball recruiting front. The bad news is the Vols lost the nation's No. 3 center prospect. The good news is he wasn't an in-state prospect, and UT didn't lose him to Florida.

Instead, 6-foot-9, 230-pound, J.J. Hickson of Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., announced for North Carolina State this afternoon, after canceling an official visit to Gainesville, Fla., last weekend.

The decision by the five-star phenom was particularly disappointing to Bruce Pearl's staff because Hickson was a perfect fit for a young Tennessee team that tacically relies on pressure and transition of a high-octane attack that requires depth, athleticism and endurance. The Vols are shallow and vunerable at the post, lacking both proven experience and an offensive presence.

Hickson, who has a high upside, would have offered an immediate upgrade. He's fared very well over a long summer of competition against the best high school big men in the country. However he's also excellent in transition and a great finisher. That high-caliber combination of capabilities made him a perfect fit in the low post at UT.

It was apparently a close call for Tennessee as Hickson was thought to be favoring the Vols as late as last week. When he didn't make his scheduled visit to Florida the picture got more cloudly, and today's announcement confirmed the fears of Big Orange fans. In his first recruiting class Bruce Pearl signed four top 100 prospects in Marques Johnson, Wayne Chism, Duke Crews and Ramar Smith. Signing Hickson next month could have completed the starting five of the future.

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 Johnson the man who has seen him play more than anyone else this summer and has coached him the last four years.

"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," said Chris Johnson, who is head coach of Hickson's summer league team Worldwide Renegades. "He's really the complete package because he can make free throws, he's strong and he's athletic."

With Hickson off the board, Tennessee will likely pick up its pursuit of Anthony McClain, a 7-foot, 220-pound center from Ft. Washington, Md., who is believed to be leaning to Georgetown. The Vols may also consider Michael Sanchez, 6-8, 220, of Springdale, Ark., as well as Chris Barnes, 6-7, 245, of Riverdale, Ga. UT could also look in the junior college ranks for an answer.

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