May 9, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee men's tennis program started its signing class this week with the addition of Jess Jones and Luis Valero.
Jones, a native of Warner Robins, Ga., is a blue-chip recruit who has been listed as high as 12th nationally by tennisrecruiting.net. He has also been the top-ranked player in the state of Georgia.
Valero, from Cali, Colombia, is currently ranked No. 89 in the ITF world junior rankings and has won three titles over the last two months.
"It's clear that their qualities mirror the qualities of our program," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "They are incredibly hard workers. They're honest. They love to compete. Those are the three founding rules within our program. I'm really excited about these guys."
Jones has found time for a few tournaments while wrapping up high school this spring. He notably won the USTA Van Der Meer Southern Winter Championships in January, beating three top-20 players in the process.
Jones comes from an athletic family. He grew up competing in baseball and basketball in addition to tennis, and his father played basketball at Georgia.
"Jess is one of the most competitive individuals that we've seen on the tennis court," Winterbotham said. "What I'm excited about is that he has the fire to not be satisfied. That competitiveness and competitive nature has always succeeded in our program."
Georgia has become a strong recruiting ground for the Vols in the last few years. All-American junior Hunter Reese (Kennesaw, Ga.) was the first Vol from Georgia since 1993 when he came to Tennessee in 2011. Junior Andrew Dromsky (Martinez, Ga.) joined the team this season as a transfer from Georgia Southern.
"We love the fact that we're able to go to Georgia and bring in talented young men to Tennessee," Winterbotham said. "There is a strong tradition of tennis in that state. To add Jess to Hunter Reese and Andrew Dromsky in our program is exciting."
Growing up playing on the red clay and hard courts of Colombia, Valero brings the Vols plenty of global tennis experience. He has won two singles and three doubles titles on the ITF junior circuit in the last 12 months, with all the titles coming in five different countries. He played in the U.S. Open junior qualifying tournament last year.
"After getting to know him, I'm just so impressed with his character," Winterbotham said. "We're really bringing in a quality individual who's just going to add to the great guys we already have here.
"As a tennis player, I feel the sky's the limit for him. He just has a great attitude on the court. He's extremely athletic. Technically, he's very gifted. He just competes very well."
Valero was climbing the rankings and on track to compete in all the junior grand slams this year before being sidelined with a wrist injury from September through most of February. Winterbotham said Valero likely would have been on track to reach the top 30 in the ITF world junior rankings.
Since returning in March, Valero won the singles title at the Costa Rica Bowl and doubles titles in France and Italy.
"Given the short time he's been back, he's played great," Winterbotham said. "We expect him to have a fantastic summer and come in healthy, confident and ready to take on this next challenge."
Another new face on court for the Vols next season will be Australia native Jack Schipanski, who joined the team in January and will start playing next year. Schipanski came to the Vols after building a career-high ATP World Tour singles ranking of 860.
The Tennessee Volunteers (17-10) begin the NCAA Championships on Saturday at 9 a.m. against Elon. A live blog will be available at utsports.com.