Points of No Return

Like most personnel problems at premier college basketball programs, Tennessee's current point guard crisis came about not as a result of failure on the recruiting trail as much as from a series of unforeseeable, and otherwise, unrelated events.

• On Aug. 26, 2005, the Volunteers received the first official visit of a point guard from Chester, S.C. named Devan Downey. UT remained a strong contender for his services into the fall and was one of his four finalists along with Arkansas, Miami and Cincinnati. As a senior the 5-foot-9 Downey averaged 27 points per game to earn Mr. Basketball honors. He scored 67 points in one game against Fairfield Central in which he hit eight straight three-pointers. Downey eventually signed with the Bearcats and started as a true freshman scoring 11 points per game. He also led Cincinnati's Final Four squad in both steals and assists. However he sought and was granted a release at the end of the season. As most Vol fans know, he transferred to South Carolina where he earned first team All-SEC honors this year after averaging 18.3 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 steals per game. The Vols didn't sign a point guard in the Class of 2005 which included a trio of forwards — Damion Harris, Matthew Dotson and Ryan Childress. Put Double D on the 2007-08 Tennessee team and it would be as strong as any in the country.

• On Sept. 29, 2005, the Vols finished second to Memphis in the recruiting battle for Bolivar point guard Willie Kemp. Ranked the nation's No. 7 prospect at his position and a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2006, he was a teammate and classmate of UT forward Wayne Chism. Regarded as a pass first point guard Kemp averaged 5.3 points and 1.6 turnovers per game as a reserve. While the Tigers don't have a pressing need for Kemp, he could have become a vital component to the Vols' drive for it's first ever the Elite Eight appearance.

• Tennessee signed six prospects in 2006 but not a single point guard. Ramar Smith got the combo guard tag from some analysts but that had more to do with his lack of shooting range as it did his proclivity as a playmaker. However Marques Johnson, ranked the nation's No. 21 shooting guard, was designated as a signee of interest for that vital role, and he actually started at the point in Tennessee's first exhibition game. As the season unfolded Johnson's playing time diminished and he soon left the program. He transferred to North Carolina State where he sat out this season. * One reason Johnson's playing time was reduced was the emergence of junior Jordan Howell, who saw limited playing time under Buzz Peterson and didn't seem to have a natural position. Pearl recognized his potential to take care of the basketball while posing a scoring threat from the perimeter. He was also an unselfish player and heady floor leader. Jordan flourished as a junior and was on track to have an even better senior campaign. That was before he began to struggle on his shot and went into a prolonged slump. He is currently mired in a 4-of-40 deep freeze and has hit only 38 of 119 (31 percent) of his three-point attempts on the season. After Jordan lost his shooting touch his confidence soon followed and he has been reduced to a wallflower during the Big Dance.

• In 2008 the Vols offered three of the top 25 ranked point guards nationally in Andrew Steele (Alabama), Terrell Holloway (Indiana) and Cashmere Wright (Cincinnati), but failed to sign any of those stars. They also reportedly offered Andre Cornelius and Courtney Fortson who chose George Mason and Arkansas respectively.

Although it's still speculation those misses may have been a blessing in disguise as UT was in position to offer Daniel West of Saginaw High in Michigan, who is expected to sign with the Vols next month.

Largely overlooked as he took the AAU season off to bulk up his academics and build his stamina, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound West put together an outstanding senior campaign in which he averaged 15 points, eight assists and eight steals per game to lead Saginaw to its second consecutive state title and USA Today's No. 4 national ranking. In the championship contest against No. 9 Detroit Pershing, West scored a team-high 21 points, hitting 7-of-11 from the field, 4-of-6 three pointers and 3-of-4 free throws. His high school coach calls West "a perfect fit for Tennessee."

Only time will tell if West signs and delivers, but he's clearly got the potential to point UT in the right direction.

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out April's issue of Rocky Top News for in-depth story on Daniel West.

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