Anybody that would be interested enough to read this far knows the Tyler Smith saga chapter and verse, and thus understands what his return to Tennessee has meant to the program. It was essentially the seal of approval from one of the Volunteer State's favorite sons. It not only erased an acrimonious event from Pearl's first days as UT's head basketball coach, it gave the Vols their best rounded talent of the Pearl era. He helped the Vols set a record for victories and reach No. 1 for the first time in school history during his first season on The Hill after transferring from Iowa, where he won all-conference honors as a freshman. His return to the Volunteer Sate paved the way for others to reconsider Tennessee.
One of those was Scotty Hopson who is the highest ranked prospect signed by Pearl at Tennessee. The 6-6 shooting guard out of Hopkinsville, Ky., originally committed to Mississippi State over UT in October 2007, but later reopened the process. Again Knoxville seemed like a good landing place for a shooter with championship aspirations and NBA dreams. The nation's No. 2 shooting guard signed with Tennessee in April.
When sophomores Ramar Smith and Duke Crews were dismissed from the team earlier this month, Pearl lost a point guard, a power forward and the two highest rated players from his first full signing class in 2006. However UT's hardwood general rebounded quickly by signing JUCO point guard Bobby Maze, who originally chose Oklahoma over Tennessee and others, transferred to a junior college in Hutchinson, Kansas, for his sophomore campaign. The favorable impression the Vols made two years ago gave them a second chance to sign the one guard.
For Pearl's next trick he'll attempt to pull a power forward out of his orange top hat, as the Vols are due a June 10 visit from 6-foot-7, 230-pound Emmanuel Negedu out of Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. The four-star prospect, who is ranked No. 22 at his position and No. 71 in the Class of 2008 by Scout.com, averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game as a senior at the New England basketball finishing school. The four-star prospect signed with Arizona last fall but gained his release after the Wildcats' coaching shake up.
Now he's back in play and once again Pearl gets a second chance to land a big one that got away. It would also add another important piece to the Volunteers' personnel puzzle, perhaps the final component to another championship season and Final Four run.
Since his release from Arizona Brewster Academy Coach Jason Smith reports receiving some 150 text messages from programs interested in adding an athletic finisher with a high ceiling and a textbook worthy work ethic. However he's way past the get-acquainted phase and will instead revisit the familiar. That means former finalists Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Indiana will each receive a visit in June. The fourth team is newbie Memphis which hired former Arizona assistant Josh Pastner, who recruited Negedu for the Wildcats.
Indiana has a new staff with the hiring of Tom Crean from Marquette, but several of his Indiana Elite AAU teammates signed with the Hoosiers which would seem to be a significant advantage. The Hoosiers also signed Tijan Jobe who, like Negedu, is a product of the Mark Adams' A-Hope Foundation which provides funds for African basketball prospects interested in pursuing an American education. Negedu is a native of Nigeria. His background is mostly in soccer which has provided him with excellent footwork and the ability to run the floor in transition.
"His strengths are his athleticism and how hard he competes," Coach Smith told Scout.com analyst John Decker. "He has to continue to develop his perimeter skills, but he plays so hard and his athleticism is in the top one percent."
Negedu will be joined on his June tour of campuses by his parents who are making their first trip to the United States. He is scheduled to visit Indiana on Tuesday, June 3, Georgia Tech, June 8, UT on June 10 and Memphis on June 12.
"He won't rush into a decision," Smith said. "He's going to take his time, and if a school takes someone ahead of him that's what they do. I don't think he'll take too long, though. He won't wait until August or even July, I don't think. I think he'll probably take a couple of visits and then probably decide."
Pearl's persuasive prowess will be put to the test — again.