Top Status Opens Doors

Being ranked No. 1 does have its advantages, particularly on the recruiting trail where name recognition is often tantamount to post position in the perennial Diaper Dandy Derby. (Apologies to Dickie V.)

Not that the Vols were doing bad in attracting talented prospects before this season's unprecedented success, but the upper tier top-25 types have proven elusive. The Vols have competed hard for and lost such premier prospects as Thaddeus Young of Memphis, who was ranked No. 6 nationally. No. 12 Patrick Patterson, No. 13 J.J. Hickson, No. 14 Elliot Williams, No. 15 Iman Shumpert and No. 16 Tyler Zeller are others that escaped Tennessee's grasp.

Undoubtedly, Bruce Pearl and his crack staff have more reach after reaching No. 1 and gaining all the attention that goes with it. And he didn't have to paint himself orange to earn prime-time coverage. Instead Vol fans painted Beale Street red.

The images of that victory will leave a lasting impression on blue chippers of the present and the future. It has the potential to open eyes, minds, hearts and doors.

Of course the Vols hope it helps sell small forward Scotty Hopson of Hopkinsville, Ky., who checks in at No. 11 nationally in the Class of 2008, and is considering UT along with Mississippi State, Cincinnati and Kentucky.

The Bulldogs sent their entire staff to Hopson's game last Thursday on senior night at University Heights Academy. The Vols had assistants present for the game as did the Wildcats and Bobcats. However it was Pearl and the Vols that had his undivided attention on Saturday night. When you can get that kind of access into the den of a five-star prospect it's invaluable.

Whether it's enough to overcome a perceived lead by Mississippi State is a matter of speculation, but since he can't sign with anybody until April anyway it's something to build upon.

If Tennessee is successful in landing Hopson he would be the highest ranked player the Vols have signed under Pearl. To present Duke Crews at No. 27 nationally is the top prize inked by Pearl. J.P. Prince was No. 33 in the Class of 2005 followed by Ramar Smith at No. 47 in the Class of 2006 and Wayne Chism at No. 57 the same year.

Two top UT targets in the Class of 2009 are five-star shooting guards Leslie McDonald, of Memphis Christian Briarcrest, who is listed No. 18 nationally, and Dominic Cheek of St. Anthony's in Jersey City, N.J., who is sitting No. 7 overall and No. 2 at his position.

McDonald is listed at 6-foot-4, 186 pounds, and can play either guard slot. His shooting range needs to improve but he has an excellent mid-range jumper and is tough off the dribble. In the Marshall County Hoopfest played in December McDonald posted 23 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and three steals against Tilghman High School. His current favorites list includes Memphis, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgetown, Duke and Ohio State.

Scout.com basketball analyst Dave Telep watched McDonald's MC Hoopfest performance and offered this observation. "We respect guys who know their own games and McDonald has command of his. He prefers the left side of the court and wore it out from mid-range in the area. What he does translates for just about every program in the country."

At 6-foot-7, 185, Cheeks appears to be growing into a small forward however his skills will allow him to play shooting guard or on the wing. As he adds strength and improves his defense his game will be complete. Very good range and a creative point producer with a nice handle.

Cheeks' list of offers includes UConn, Florida, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Texas, Tennessee, Villanova, Wake Forest, Miami and North Carolina.


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