The recruiting battle in the city of Memphis

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Over the weekend, John Martin of the Commercial Appeal penned an interesting column on Tennessee and Memphis high school hoops.

More specifically, he took a look at whether Tennessee would be able to make recruiting the city of Memphis a priority and if they could eventually have sustained success going head-to-head with the U of M with kids in their back yard:

The fierce loyalty Memphis basketball prospects have shown toward the U of M started in the 1970s and ’80s, when Melrose products Larry Finch and Ronnie Robinson opted to stay home.

Evan Daniels, Scout’s national recruiting analyst, said while it will be tough for Tennessee and any other out-of-town school to recruit against the U of M in Memphis, they all have to try because of the deep talent pool.

“I don’t think Tennessee has had much success at all, but I think the bigger aspect is they’re gonna have to have a connection there because so many players come out,” Daniels said. “They have to make an attempt.”

Cuonzo Martin has had some success, plucking Jarnell Stokes out of Memphis last January when the 6-foot-8 rising sophomore enrolled in college early. The staff before Martin had also signed Chris Jones, who ended up going to Junior College.

The rivalry between the two programs will make it difficult to persuade kids that grow up rooting for the Tigers to don Volunteer Orange, but with the depth of the talent pool in the city, it’s a necessity. Four top 100 players in the Class of 2013 play at Memphis high schools — Nick King, Johnathan Williams III, Jajuan Johnson, and Austin Nichols — and Jones, who will transfer to a Division I school for the 2013-2014 season, may be the best JuCo player in the country.

Josh Pastner does a great job recruiting the city. Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas are all Memphis natives, and he spent this past weekend watching King and Johnson play at the Nike Global Challenge in DC. But he doesn’t have the room on his roster for all of 2013’s Memphis natives.

That’s where Martin and Tennessee come in.

And that’s also why Pastner is trying to end the series with Tennessee.

If Martin can build a pipeline into Memphis, he could end up reducing Pastner’s stranglehold on the city’s talent. By ending the series with Tennessee, Pastner’s goal is to kill any chance the Memphis kids would have to play at home, in front of their friends and family. Memphis is six hours from Knoxville. Stokes’ high school buddies aren’t heading to a game at Thompson-Boling on a whim.

It’s all fascinating, frankly.

And it should make the remaining games between the Vols and the Tigers that much more intense and exciting.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.