Vols eye point guard

Emmanuel Owootoah

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The fact that Rodrick Rhodes says Emmanuel Owootoah has "one of the best handles I've seen" should carry some weight.

That's because Rhodes, Owootoah's head coach at Cordia High School in Hazard, Ky., has seen some great ball-handlers in his day. A three-time High School All-American in Jersey City, he went on to star collegiately at Kentucky and Southern Cal, then play pro ball for the NBA's Houston Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks.

Because he transferred in from Martingrove School of Toronto, Canada, Owootoah (pronounced Oh-wah-TOO-ah) missed the first half of Cordia High's 2012-13 season while awaiting an eligibility ruling. Still, he was so impressive in his debut (15 points versus Buchanan) that Tennessee assistant Tracy Webster showed up to watch him score 19 points a few nights later against Hazard High School.

"He's a pass-first point guard who can shoot the ball," Rhodes said. "He's not a deadly shooter but a very good shooter. He has nice form, and you can't back off of him, but you'd probably rather see his jump shot than his drive because you don't want him driving the ball to the basket. He does such a good job of collapsing a defense and finding other players. His court vision and basketball IQ are off the charts."

Despite scoring 34 points in his first two American outings, Owootoah reportedly is even better at handling the ball than shooting it.

"He has one of the best handles I've seen, and that's saying something," Rhodes said. "I'm from the New York/New Jersey area, and this kid really has one of the best handles I've seen. That's not hype. That's really the way I see it."

In addition to his ball-handling and shooting skills, Owootoah has the attitude and work ethic necessary to fully exploit these gifts.

"I really consider him a throwback player," Rhodes said. "A lot of kids today are part of this microwave generation: They expect everything given to them right away. Emmanuel isn't like that. He might be the quiet kid in the room but he's also going to be one of the best basketball players in the room. He's a throwback to the guys who work hard in the gym instead of expecting stuff given to them."

Unlike most high schoolers, Owootoah exerts as much effort on defense as he does on offense. He reportedly is a top-notch on-the-ball defender.

"Another thing that makes him a throwback player is that he's not all offense," Rhodes said. "He plays defense, too. He makes everyone around him better. You instantly fall in love with him as a teammate because he wants to make everyone else better. He's very low-maintenance, which is rare nowadays."

Finally, Owootoah exhibits the natural leadership qualities that cause teammates to rally around him and follow his example.

"He's a general," Rhodes said. "He's a coach on the floor. He's a total leader. Instantly, once he steps on campus, he's the guy you want running your team. He's always in the gym working to get better, and he'll do everything the coaching staff asks of him."

It's no secret that Vol head man Cuonzo Martin prefers guys who play passionately and defend aggressively. Emmanuel Owootoah fits the profile. So, a 2013 Tennessee signing class that already features one point guard — Travon Landry of Huntington (W.V.) Prep — could be adding another one during the spring signing period.

"Emmanuel's definitely interested in Tennessee," Rhodes said. "It's only about 2 1/2 hours away from Hazard. That would be a bonus because then I could come and see him. The location of the school is a positive, plus Coach Martin and Coach Webster are two people he can relate to."

NCAA rules prohibit Webster from commenting on Owootoah but the Vol aide reportedly came away impressed with his first look at the young man.

Rhodes put it this way: "I think Tennessee will take a second look at him."

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