Real Deal Well-Heeled

Tennessee's Bruce Pearl was looking for some gym dandies this weekend at the Real Deal on the Hill tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., and he wasn't alone as such noteworthy colleagues as John Calipari, Bill Self, Tubby Smith, Mike Anderson, Rick Pitino and Bobby Huggins were also among the many high-profile coaches in attendance at the annual gathering of heralded hardwood prospects.

One of the AAU teams competing in the prestigious event is the Atlanta Celtics who boast an impressive array of alumni i.e. Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Jumaine Jones and Randolph Morris. Current Celtics include Top 15 prospects Howard Thompkins, a 6-8 power forward who plays his high school ball at Oak Hill Academy, Noel Johnson, a 6-7 sophomore guard and son of former NBA player Lynbert "Cheese" Johnson and open court standout Derrick Favors.

"We're full of talent from the first guy to the last guy," said Celtics coach Jammar Stegall in a Saturday interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I'm expecting everyone on the team to earn a Division I scholarship."

It was only two years ago that at the Real Deal tournament that current Vol forward Wayne Chism caught the discerning eyes of scouts and coaches by playing well against No. 1 prospect Greg Oden. They would match up again as true freshmen including Ohio State's one-point victory in the Sweet 16 last month.

"I got matched up with Oden there and at the ABCD Camp," Chism said in an interview with Rocky Top News. "I think I matched up well with Oden because of the physical, pushing him outside the paint. That's a big part of my game."

Chism's performance pushed him into the spotlight as a prospect of distinction and is typical of what happens when renowns and unknowns are thrown into the arena of high stakes competition.

A couple of Memphis Chaos guards Ricky Smith, a 6-4 junior, and 6-3 sophomore Chris Reeves, a 6-3 sophomore scored 16 and 13 points respectively in an opening (Friday) night game against Houston Select that should drive their stock due north.

While prospects and college coaches couldn't interact at the event, nor could coaches attend Friday's games, for the most part there was no mistaking their mutual awareness in a 19,000 seat Bud Walton that contained little else.

"I'm not looking up in the stands to see who's watching or anything like that," Reeves told media members. "I'm playing to win. Just because they don't have coaches doesn't mean anything."

One of the mega stars in Fayetteville was California Pump-N-Run guard Jrue Holiday, a consensus top five prospect in the Class of 2008, who is originally from Mississippi to North Hollywood. He led Campbell Hall to two Division IV state titles in the last three years, and scored a game-high 20 points in this year's championship contest against Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman. Campbell won that no-contest by a score of 70-34. It was the first title game in state history to use the mercy clock.

Holiday describes himself as open to "everybody."

"It just depends on the system, and how I like the coaches and players," he added.

Michael Sanchez, a 6-8 forward from Springdale, Ark., is another prospect at Real Deal in which Tennessee has an interest. As a senior he helped lead Har-Bre High School to the state title game and recently scored 30 points for the Arkansas Hawks in an AAU game in Tulsa. Limited by injuries the last two seasons, Sanchez appears to be back at full health and his game is on the rise. Because he lost valuable playing the last two years following knee surgery, he's decided to attend prep school this fall to sharpen his skills.

Other top prospect and big names at Real Deal were: Drew Gordon, a 6-8 forward San Jose Archbishop Mitty, Yancy Gates, a 6-8 forward from Cincinnati Withrow and Renaldo Sydney, a 6-9 sophomore center Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia, who is one of the standouts in the Class of 2009.

Somewhere among these names may be the missing piece of UT's Final Four puzzle.

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