Tigers recruiting notebook: Tubby Smith takes personal approach with five-star recruit
Shooting guard Antwann Jones, currently rated by ESPN as a five-star prospect in the class of 2018, recently received pictures of the basketball facilities at Memphis and came away impressed. The new $21 million practice facility being constructed and the NBA vibe of FedExForum are luxuries that put the Tigers in good position heading into the summer with this 6-foot-6 Tampa, Fla. product.
But it's the person delivering this message that resonated most with Jones.
“I love Coach Tubby, so I like Memphis. ... I’m getting recruited straight from the head coach,” Jones said this weekend after finishing up a game with Each 1 Teach 1 as part of Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League event in Cartersville, Ga. “I give him a call here and there. He gives me a call here and there. We got a good relationship."
Although assistant Joe Esposito is the primary recruiter on Jones, it appears Memphis Coach Tubby Smith is stepping up his involvement in the process in order to lure this talented perimeter option to campus. Jones said Smith is pushing him to visit Memphis soon and his versatility seems to fit with the type of player Smith prefers.
Considered one of the top 50 rising seniors in the country by ESPN, 247 Sports and Scout, Jones can play either guard spot and score at all three levels on offense. His combination of strength and athleticism allow him to finish inside and he comes armed with a developed mid-range game and accuracy from beyond the arc.
“I feel like I really am an all-around player,” Jones said. “My No. 1 goal is to win the game, so if I don’t have to score 30 points, if I can feed my teammate and he’s hot, I’m going to keep feeding him. I’m never going to be selfish in the college game. I’m a great scorer, great passer and I’m getting more and more athletic every day as I grow into my body because I’m not done growing.”
Jones noted Georgia and Texas A&M are also recruiting him as hard as Memphis. Esposito first made contact with him while working at Texas Tech, and Jones also claims several other scholarship offers from high major schools.
The recruiting process, Jones admitted, feels long and weighs on him constantly because he knows how important this decision could be. Smith’s pitch only underscores that.
They talk frequently about the potential that’s still there for Jones to tap into and how Memphis could help him along the way.
“He’s saying with the ability I have now, if I keep on developing my game, I have the ability to go to the NBA," Jones said
Woodard's Bulldog bloodline
Although his father played basketball at Mississippi State and his mother went there as well, Robert Woodard insists assuming he’ll just follow their lead and join the Bulldogs is not accurate. Count Memphis among the schools trying to persuade this four-star Columbus, Miss., product to blaze his own path.
“The main thing is I’m not biased to Mississippi State,” Woodard said. “My father went there. My mother went there. But it has nothing to do with my decision. It being close to me has nothing to do with my decision. My decision is based off what school best fits me, the coaching staff as well as the team.”
Woodard, a 6-foot-8 wing who earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Mississippi after averaging 25.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3 blocks per game this past winter, is on the Tigers’ wish list. They’ve been in contact with him for nearly two years now and “call pretty frequently and text as well,” Woodard noted.
Woodard is an inside-outside threat, with a combination of strength, athleticism and energy that make him a factor in every facet of the game. He rebounds well for his size, blocks shots and can move onto the perimeter offensively. He’s attracted to Memphis because of the up tempo style Smith plans to implement next season.
“They’re going to let them open the floor, look up, fast break all the time, and hard defense as well,” Woodard said. “I feel like I’m getting a lot stronger just competing with the guys bigger than me down low, as well as getting a little crafty with my handles.”
Other than Mississippi State and Memphis, Woodard said Baylor, Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida State and Georgetown are also heavily involved in his recruitment. He isn’t planning to make a decision until the start of his senior high school season.
Tigers offer Angolan big man
Valdir Manuel smiled when asked about the scholarship offer he got last week from Memphis because the comparison he got from the Tigers’ coaches made him laugh.
“They say I can be the next Derrick Rose,” said Manuel, a 6-foot-10 forward. “I like them.”
Manuel, who originally hails from Luanda, Angola, has been in the United States less than two years at this point after coming here at the suggestion of the Angolan national team coach. He began his career stateside at Sunrise Christian in Kansas before moving to St. Patrick High School in New Jersey.
But Manuel is different from most African prospects because of the offensive skills he already developed overseas. He can shoot 3-pointers and uses his long arms to confound defenders in the post. In an EYBL game Saturday night, he finished with 17 points, six rebounds and five blocks.
Manuel’s recruitment is “wide open,” according to St. Patrick School assistant coach Atawn Branch, and Seton Hall, Rutgers, Rhode Island, Temple and DePaul previously offered scholarships. Expect more high majors to get involved in the future, through.
Reach Mark Giannotto at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mgiannotto.