Austin Nichols is coming to Tennessee.
For the weekend, at least.
Trying to out-duel the likes of Memphis, Vanderbilt, Duke, Virginia and Auburn, Tennessee will lay out its sales pitch to the state’s most coveted basketball recruit today and Saturday.
Wholehearted hospitality is on the docket.
Nichols, a senior at Briarcrest Christian in Memphis, is ranked as the No. 26 prospect in the Class of 2013 by 247Sports. UT coach Cuonzo Martin has lassoed one five-star recruit this offseason in Robert Hubbs III, who joined last season’s five-star haul, Jarnell Stokes.
Now the Vols are dreaming of a third.
“We’re excited about the visit,” said Mark Nichols, Austin’s father. “It should be an awesome weekend.”
Austin Nichols will be accompanied by his father, mother and older sister on the Tennessee visit, according to the elder Nichols. Austin’s twin sister, Ashley Nichols, a freshman at UT, will meet the family in Knoxville.
The official visit will begin Friday morning, end Sunday morning, and can go no longer than 48 hours, per NCAA rules.
Having visited all other suitors, Nichols will take his final official visit to Auburn next week. Mark Nichols said his son hopes to announce his decision live on ESPNU in early November.
“I don’t know if we’re going to sign early yet, but we’re going to hopefully commit in three weeks, if possible,” he said Wednesday.
Named Division II Class AA Mr. Basketball in Tennessee for 2011-12, Nichols’ talent warrants his lofty billing. At 6-foot-9, he’s a true, athletic post player, but offers a growing array of perimeter skills, including a consistent, knockdown jump shot.
“He is one of the best I’ve ever seen in high school basketball, as far as offensive moves in the post,” said Briarcrest coach John Harrington. “He’s athletic, has great length, can handle (the ball) with his left and right hand, uses his body well in space down low and can score from either side of the hoop.”
Given his son’s budding all-around floor game, Mark Nichols is still trying to envision how he’d fit in Martin’s motion offense as an inside-out player. It will be a hump the UT coaching staff will need to hurdle this weekend.
“I don’t know if that would be a good fit for him, you know because Tennessee has a grind-out style type of play and I think a more open offense would be more conducive to Austin now,” Mark Nichols said.
“I’m not saying it wouldn’t work, but I’m saying I just think he would fit better other places. If he chooses Tennessee, I’ll be happy for him and we’ll go on with it. It’ll be up to Cuonzo to get the best out of him. Hopefully he’d have a system that works for him.”
Harrington, who runs a four-out, one-in motion offense at Briarcrest, said he thinks Nichols could work in Martin’s system. He described UT’s recruiting efforts as “very diligent” and said Martin has visited “numerous times, almost to the point where he’s a fixture here.”
“It’s hard to read Austin to begin with,” Harrington added. “I look at all the coaches that are recruiting him and there are some coaches that have different personalities and age differences, stuff like that. I think Coach Martin fits well with Austin.”
Nichols and Hubbs are AAU teammates for Tennessee-based M33M Elite. Hubbs’ father, Robert Hubbs Jr., is an assistant coach.
Additionally, Nichols is well familiar with Stokes, who was a high school star in Memphis.
Mark Nichols said those connections have been a major piece of UT’s pitch, but added, “I don’t know if that should play into the equation at all, but I’m not the one making this decision. It’s all about comfort.”
Last weekend saw the red carpet unfold for Austin Nichols at Memphis Madness. Fans chanted his name. Mark Nichols described the visit “good,” but quickly added, ‘He’s not into all that, really. He appreciated it, don’t get me wrong, it makes anybody feel honored or happy, but he’s not really into all the hoopla.”
Now it’s on to UT.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn