By Randy Moore Rocky Top News
Tennessee's basketball program truly warrants an episode of the "Extreme Makeover" television series. Just about everything is going to be different in this season than it was last year.
You can start with the head coach. Bruce Pearl's dismissal last spring led to the hiring of Cuonzo Martin, whose only previous head coaching experience was at mid-major Missouri State. Whereas Pearl never met a microphone he didn't like, Martin is a low-key guy who is somewhat camera shy compared to his predecessor.
Tennessee has three new assistants this season, as well. With Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay exiting as part of the purge last March, the new staff features Tracy Webster, Jon Harris and Kent Williams.
Another dramatic change in Tennessee hoops is the roster. Gone from 2010-11 are eight players - seven of whom played significant roles last season. The seven are Tobias Harris, Scotty Hopson, Melvin Goins, Brian Williams, Steven Pearl, John Fields and Josh Bone. Those seven accounted for 74.5 percent of the points, 69.5 percent of the rebounds, 60.5 percent of the assists and 69.4 percent of the minutes a year ago.
The most critical losses, by far, were Hopson and Harris, both of whom declined their remaining eligibility in favor of the 2011 NBA Draft. Harris, who would've been a sophomore this season, went in the first round. Hopson, who would've been a senior, was not drafted.
What Harris and Hopson could've meant to the 2011-12 team is inestimable. Hopson led the 2010-11 Vols in scoring (17.0 points per game) and 3-point shooting (37.6 percent). Harris ranked No. 1 in rebounds (247), No. 2 in scoring (15.3 ppg) and No. 2 in blocks (29).
Hall (6-8, 225) projects to start at center this season, with Tatum (6-6, 190) at one wing and Golden (6-1, 208) at the point. The rest of the playing rotation is anyone's guess. Former walk-on Skylar McBee, a 6-3 junior, is battling 6-6 sophomore Jordan McRae for the wing spot opposite Tatum. Jeronne Maymon, a 6-7, 255-pounder, is the heir-apparent to Harris at power forward. Senior Renaldo Woolridge (6-10, 215) is capable of playing every position except the point but he has never established himself at any spot.
Neither of Pearl's November signees wound up qualifying for admission, so Martin was left to scrape together a recruiting class from the slim pickings available last spring. His first signing class consists of 6-9, 240-pound Yemi Makanjuola, 6-8, 240-pound junior college transfer Dwight Miller, 6-6 Josh Richardson, 6-5 Quinton Chievous and 6-1 point guard Wes Washpun. There isn't a 4-star or 5-star recruit in the bunch. That, coupled with the limited production of the returning players, has Tennessee fans expecting a long season.
Martin believes in himself and in his system. So, while conceding that the departures of Harris and Hopson make the challenge a little bigger, he seems eager to go to war.
"You're putting guys in different positions, so at the end of the year we've got to be a better team than you were at the beginning," he said. "It was the opposite with Tennessee this past year, for obvious reasons. We've got to grow so that, by NCAA Tournament time, we're playing our best basketball."