Vols Land Big Man

Tennessee's basketball fortunes took a giant step forward Wednesday with word that 6-foot-11, 255-pound prospect Philip Jurick of East Ridge High School in Chattanooga has committed to become a Vol.

Rated the nation's No. 72 basketball prospect in the Class of 2008 by Scout.com, Jurick chose to stay in-state and play for UT over opportunities at Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky. His decision gives Pearl his sixth top 100 prospect over the last two years and his first from the Volunteer State.

"What really separated (Tennessee) was staying in state and knowing that I have a support group," Jurick told Scout.com's Dave Telep. "The group is there and it'll get bigger. I'm always going to see this is as my home and I didn't feel the need to away and come back."

One of those prospects who did come back is J.P. Prince of Memphis White Station who originally signed with Arizona before transferring to Tennessee after his freshman campaign.

Another homegrown prospect who could return is Tyler Smith of Pulaski, who was signed by Buzz Peterson but failed to qualify and went to prep school. He then signed with Iowa where he earned third team All Big Ten honors last season as a freshman. He has been given a release from his scholarship and is free to transfer to another program. He prefers UT so he can be closer to his ailing father and fulfill a longtime dream of wearing the Big Orange.

If Smith is added to UT's hardwood stable Pearl would have gained a prospect from east, west and middle Tennessee that were rated among the top 100 prospects in the country. Add Boliver's Wayne Chism and that number grows to four. In the process Pearl has proved he can rebuild the program while beating perennial basketball powers for elite talent. That unique achievement wasn't lost on Jurick.

"What he's done with the school you can see," Jurick noted. "They've been in the NCAA Tournament. They don't have all the players yet and they're still competing. I think I can be that cornerstone guy that can help them win it all."

To gain Jurick's verbal commitment, Tennessee had to overcome two schools with unrivaled tradition.

"Down the stretch it was really just Tennessee and Kentucky" Jurick said. "With Tubby leaving, Kentucky eliminated themselves but I was thinking about Indiana and Tennessee."

As a sophomore, Jurick, who moved to Chattanooga from Florida three years ago, averaged 15.3 points, 16.8 rebounds and 8.5 blocks per game. He brings an imposing defensive presence in the paint that will allow UT to overplay passing lanes and deploy an aggressive perimeter defense. He will see early action in the low post for Tennessee. However he will be allowed to move away from the basket as his range and offensive game progresses. The chance to develop and diversify was, no doubt, appealing to Jurick.

"They told me I'll come in as a (center)," he explained to Telep. "My game is rebounding and blocking shots. I'll be like Wayne Chism who started at the five and developed his four game so I can face the basket and shoot."

Similarly Ryan Childress refined his outside game as a sophomore to the point he was one of the Vols' top 3-point threats by the end of the season. He nailed four triples in the Sweet 16 match-up against Ohio State.

"Philip is a true post player," East Ridge head coach John Goddard said of his prolific pivot in an interview with HoosierNation.com. "He's comfortable with his back to the basket. He's a strong kid with a good frame where he can pick up weight easy. He can run the floor, he has good hands, and he has a soft touch around the basket."

Sounds like Philip Jurick is a fit that's fit for a ring.

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