Despite bringing in an elite recruiting class for the third straight year, Tennessee basketball freshmen aren’t getting the same love as blue blood programs. True, the Vols only have one five-star, but they have multiple four-stars, and at least one will likely be in the rotation this year.
Still, on a list of the top 80 freshmen to know this year by Isaac Trotter of 247Sports, only that one five-star, wing Julian Phillips, was named from UT. No, a school couldn’t max out at one player either, as in the SEC alone, five schools had at least two players.
The list also wasn’t limited to five-stars, as no service this year had more than 28 five-stars. Simply put, using discretion, Tennessee basketball had D.J. Jefferson and B.J. Edwards left out. TO be fair, Trotter did give a good bit of praise to Phillips. Here’s what was written.
Phillips could earn a starting role for Tennessee because he’s an elite three-level scorer with the strength and athleticism to guard multiple spots. He’s in such a good position because Zakai Zeigler can shoulder the ball-handling duties. Josiah-Jordan James can guard the opposing team’s best player. Santiago Vescovi will have all the attention because he’s such an elite shooter. So Phillips can really thrive because he won’t have the pressure or all the defensive attention.
Now, part of this issue could be the fact that the Vols are loaded this year. Jefferson and Edwards were four-stars across the board, but Jefferson is a wing, playing the position Phillips already occupies. Meanwhile, Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi are back, and Indiana State Sycamores transfer Tyreke Key is there.
Simply put, you could see Jefferson being left out, especially when Jahmai Mashack, a four-star fro last year, is also still on the roster. However, given the potential he brings to the table, there’s no reason to leave Edwards off the list. He should be an immediate impact player.
Edwards is a combo guard who stands at 6’3″ 192 pounds and is likely to be in the rotation at point with Zakai Zeigler. Given his size, he’ll like have a huge impact and be in the rotation immediately. He’s the type of player Rick Barnes knows how to use early.
As a result, Trotter made a huge mistake leaving him out. Edwards has a chance to be a starter for Tennessee basketball this year over Zeigler given his potential, and it’s also possible he’s used with Zeigler the way Zeigler and Kennedy Chandler were used at times last year, when both were on the court together.
Ironically, Zeigler was technically part of the 2022 class but reclassified for 2021 and became a fan favorite. Tobe Awaka, a three-star power forward, could also potentially be a member of the Vols’ 2022 class, but that’s only if he reclassifies, and for now, it appears he’s waiting until 2023.
As a result, Edwards, Jefferson and Phillips are Rocky Top’s three sure freshmen this year. Among them, Phillips is an obvious immediate impact player, but Edwards should be on there. Zeigler’s size alone will create a need for a player like Edwards.
This wasn’t an obvious take, as Edwards wasn’t a top 100 player on most services, but given the makeup of Tennessee basketball, he’ll clearly be needed. Also, we still don’t know if Jefferson does work his way, into the rotation, even if things are working against him. As a result, the Vols didn’t get enough respect here.