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Monday, June 11, 2007

St. George's H.S. (Memphis) Guard Elliott Williams Courted by Memphis, Tennessee, UNC and Duke

Vols court Memphis prep star, but so do others
UNC, Duke join chase for Williams

Staff Writer, Nashville Tennessean

KNOXVILLE — Nobody needed to tell Bruce Pearl when he took the Tennessee men's basketball job how important the talent-rich area of Memphis would be to his recruiting.

It was equally apparent that the best players in Memphis weren't flocking to Tennessee to play their college basketball, at least not historically.

"Memphis is very important," Pearl said. "In the state of Tennessee, wherever they're playing the best high school basketball, that's where we need to be. Some years, it's Nashville, and Tennessee has lost some big recruits out of Nashville in the past.

"It just so happens that West Tennessee tends to put out the best players year after year."

And this year, that player is guard Elliot Williams, whose stock may be rising more than any other player in the country.

Duke in the running

A dazzling 6-foot-4 guard from St. George's Independent School, Williams put on a show at last month's Tournament of Champions in Chapel Hill, N.C. He averaged 26 points per game and was as comfortable burying 3-pointers as he was slicing to the basket.

But here's the catch for the Vols, who've clearly made Williams one of their top targets. They're not just battling John Calipari and hometown Memphis.

Duke and North Carolina also have entered the picture for Williams, who's rated by as the country's 20th-best prospect overall and fourth-best shooting guard prospect.

"That's when I stepped back and knew it was getting serious, when powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina jumped in there," Williams said. "Coach K (Duke's Mike Krzyzewski) said he'd never recruited a player from Memphis before. That's saying something when you think about all the great players who've come out of here.

"But just because Duke and North Carolina are recruiting me, that doesn't mean I'm going to pick the school with the most prestige. I've got to pick the school that's right for me."

Impressed with Pearl

Much like his own ascent among the country's top rising senior prospects, Williams said the Vols' resurgence under Pearl the last two years has placed them squarely in his sights.

"They've improved every year under Coach Pearl," Williams said.

"You look at what he's brought to that team and the intensity he brought. He's made the team what it is. They're growing and growing fast, and you want to be part of something like that."

Does that mean the Vols are right at the top of Williams' list? He's not ready to go that far, but admits he's close to trimming his list.

Right now, in addition to Duke, North Carolina, Tennessee and Memphis, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Texas are all courting Williams.

"The hardest part will be getting that down to four or five," he said.

"You build relationships with all these coaches, and you've got to tell all but one of them no."

Making inroads

Williams plans to sign in November. He visited Duke in conjunction with his trip to play in the Tournament of Champions at the end of last month. He's also been to Tennessee a couple of times on unofficial visits and said he's been everywhere else on his list but Georgia Tech and Texas.

Pulling a player the caliber of Williams out of Memphis would be huge for Pearl, who's already shown he can go outside the state and attract top players.

But getting one marquee player out of Memphis could easily lead to others.

The Vols, along with everybody else, are already eyeing Leslie McDonald, one of the top rising junior prospects in the country.

"If you can make it in Memphis, you can make it anywhere," Williams said. "Coaches know that, and that's why they keep coming back."

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