Post haste

Strangely enough, the player who seems most eager for Tennessee's 2010-11 basketball to begin is not a freshman but a senior.

That would be John Fields, who transferred in from UNC-Wilmington over the summer. The 6-9, 240-pound post player averaged 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds last season and is eager to prove he can have just as much impact for a high-major program as he did for a mid-major program. Thus, he can scarcely wait for Wednesday night's 7:30 tipoff in the exhibition opener vs. Brevard (N.C.) College.

"Oh, man, the excitement level is high," he said, literally gushing. "I'm ready to play my first game as a Tennessee Volunteer.

"It's all excitement. The excitement of taking a step up, playing at this level, playing in front of the home fans and how they fill this place up ... it's going to be very exciting. And to get that first game with Tennessee colors on under my belt will help me progress."

Although he left a good program at Wilmington, he says it cannot compare to the program he joined at Tennessee. For one thing, the Vols are coming off the first NCAA Elite Eight appearance in program history, and expectations are high.

"I love the pressure," he said. "I didn't feel this pressure at Wilmington. I love the pressure and the expectations for us to come out and surpass that Elite Eight status."

The biggest difference between Wilmington and UT, however, is the talent. The skill level Fields encountered in Knoxville blew him away.

"The biggest surprise is the level of competition," he said. "You have to bring it every day in practice. At UNCW I felt like I was a clearcut starter. You could take some days off and not give your full effort. Here, you have to push every day because there's always somebody to take your spot in the rotation if you have a bad practice. There's pressure to play good every day in practice."

Despite some key graduation losses, Fields believes the 2010-11 Vols are capable of making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

"We've got 15 guys that could play for any program in the nation," he said. "I feel it's going to be a track meet every night because of the talent that we have."

Although he has had just 2 1/2 weeks of work in Tennessee's offensive and defensive systems, Fields is expected to start Wednesday night. He worked with the No. 1 unit in Monday's practice, partly because 6-10, 270-pound senior Brian Williams has missed some time with a sprained ankle.

"It feels pretty good to know that Coach Pearl trusts me to put me with the first unit sometimes," Fields said. "I feel great about that."

The head man believes Fields is most deserving, based on his performance in game-type situations.

"When the lights have come on and we've been in scrimmage situations, John has played better with officials than he has without them," Pearl said. "He's a factor on the defensive end because of his ability to block shots and change shots.

"And he's been a really good addition as a teammate. He's a great kid - yes sir, no sir - learning and asking questions."

Fields believes he has improved significantly in his short time on The Hill, thanks to the efforts and expertise of Tennessee staffers.

"I've improved most in my work ethic, my moves around the basket and my free throws," he said. "We have really helpful coaches, really helpful GAs (grad assistants) who get in there and work with you. They help you improve your skills each and every day."

Fields needed no help on his shot-blocking skills. He swatted away 104 field-goal tries in two years at East Carolina (2006-07 and 2007-08), then blocked another 59 last year at Wilmington. Clearly, the guy has a knack for rejecting shots.

"I think I got that from my Momma," he said. "She's 6-3 and was a pretty good shot-blocker at Claflin College, a Div. 2 school in Orangeburg, South Carolina."

In addition to blocking shots, Fields is pretty good at rebounding. Those two knacks are his ticket to playing time for the 2010-11 Vols.

"My job is to block shots, rebound at a high level and finish around the rim," he said. "We have great perimeter guys like Scotty (Hopson) and Jordan (McRae) and great playmakers like Melvin (Goins) and Tobias (Harris).

"I'm just here to play tough defense against the center and, when they spoon-feed me, make sure I eat."

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