You don’t have to be at courtside to get a favorable impression of Tennessee basketball. An upper-deck view was just fine for Tobias Harris.
Two days after watching the Vols from the upper deck at Thompson-Boling Arena, the highly sought-after power forward from Half Hollow Hills West High in Glen Head, N.Y., announced that he had signed with UT.
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound Harris, who made his announcement live on ESPNU on Thursday evening, is the highest-rated player ever to sign with the Vols, according to recruiting-service rankings. He’s the third signee in UT’s 2010-11 class, which also includes guards Jordan McRae and Trae Golden.
Harris’ signing resonated immediately in the recruiting rankings. Before he signed, UT was listed “on the cusp” of ESPN.com’s top 25. Afterwards, the Vols soared to No. 8. Rivals ranks its No. 4.
“Tobias is a top-10 player,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said in a phone interview. “We’re a top-20 program. He could have gone anywhere.
“Tony Jones (assistant head coach) did a great job recruiting him. And I think he really liked our players.”
Harris said as much when he made his announcement.
“I have a great relationship with coach (Bruce) Pearl and assistant coach (Tony) Jones,” Harris said when asked why he chose UT. “I got along with the players really well.”
Harris was at ESPN Zone in New York’s Time Square when he was interviewed by ESPNU. His orange shirt could have been a hint that UT was in good shape. But he also included Syracuse as one of his seven finalists.
UT beat out the Orange as well as Kentucky, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Syracuse and West Virginia for Harris.
“He wants to be a difference maker,” :Pearl said. “He was aware of the players we will lose (four of UT’s top players are seniors. “And I think he liked what we did with Tyler (Smith) and Wayne (Chism).”
Although he didn’t make his announcement until Thursday, Harris said he signed with UT a day earlier.
Harris, who averaged 29.2 points per game as a junior, is rated as the No. 5 player overall by Rivals.com. He is rated as the No. 1 power forward.
Harris’ stock soared with recruiting services after he performed so well in summer camps. His improvement could be attributed, in part, to a rigorous conditioning program
“We go to work on speed and agility training from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we do plyometrics and weight training,” Torrel Harris, the father of Tobias Harris and a former college basketball player, told ESPN.com. “Then, from 8-10 we go to the gym for basketball skills training with all my boys (he has two younger teenage sons). Sundays off; we give thanks to the Lord.”
Harris looks more athletic than a prototypical power forward and could be a nice replacement for senior Tyler Smith, a 6-7 forward who has excelled as a scorer, rebounder and passer in Pearl’s up-tempo offense. Harris demonstrated a variety of shots, a soft touch and 3-point range on a highlight video.
Harris brought out the best in UT just by visiting. He made his official visit the week of the UT-Georgia game, which UT won 45-19. He returned on his own Tuesday to watch the Vols rout UNC Asheville 124-49.
Although Harris is the biggest-name signee of UT’s class so far, McRae and Golden also are heralded players.
The 6-1 Golden is a senior at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga. He was a consensus Class AAAAA first-team all-state selection in Georgia last year, and Rivals.com rates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 55 overall prospect nationally for 2010.
“I’ve been watching Trae play since he was a freshman and have watched him grow and mature,”Pearl said. “He’s a tough kid — a competitor — and he’ll bring an element of toughness to this team. He’s got leadership abilities.
“He’s the kind of guy that we want in this program.”
Golden averaged 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game while leading the Indians to a 24-4 record last season as a junior.
McRae of Liberty County (Ga.) High in Midway, Ga., has been committed to the Vols for more than a year. Scout.com ranks the 6-6 McRae, who averaged 23 points as a junior, as the No. 6 shooting guard in the country, and Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 42 player overall in the 2010 recruiting class.
“We’ve signed three very good kids,” Pearl said. “They’re all good students with great families.”
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.