Trip will really help Hoop Vols

After losing three players to graduation (Ron Slay, Jon Higgins and Thaydeus Holden) and three more to transfer (Andy Ikeakor, Derek Stribling and Elgrace Wilborn) since the 2002-03 season began, Tennessee's basketball team must blend a lot of new faces into the mix this year. So why not start the blending process as early as possible?

That's the thinking behind a five-day trip (Wednesday through Sunday) to the Carribean, where the Vols will get a jumpstart on the 2003-04 season by playing two exhibition games. Moreover, because of the overseas tour, Tennessee was able to begin practice Oct. 1, instead of waiting until the official opening of NCAA practice on Oct. 18.

The Vols may be the least experienced team in college basketball this season. Brandon Crump is a junior who has 46 career starts to his credit, and C.J. Watson is a sophomore who started 28 of UT's 29 games last winter. Memphis transfer Scooter McFadgon started 54 games at his previous school but has never taken the floor as a Vol. After those three, the experience level plummets.

Stanley Asumnu started six games as a freshman last winter but averaged just 12 minutes per game. John Winchester started one game as a freshman last year but averaged a mere 8 minutes per game. Junior college transfer Justin Albrecht saw backup action in two games last season before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his foot. Boomer Herndon saw action in just 12 of UT's 29 games last season. Clemson transfer Jemere Hendrix played in eight games at his previous stop but has never suited up for Tennessee. Of course, incoming freshmen Dane Bradshaw and Major Wingate have yet to play in a college game.

Given the general inexperience on UT's roster, head coach Buzz Peterson concedes that this Carribean trip offers a great opportunity for his new-look team to begin jelling.

''It comes at a good time,'' he said. ''Next year you don't lose anybody, so this is a good time to take a team overseas and get guys some playing time. Stanley (Asumnu), Boomer (Herndon) and John (Winchester) and Scooter (McFadgon) and Jemere (Hendrix) need some game-type experience to get a feel for it a little bit. I'm glad we're taking the trip at this time.''

Peterson arranged a trip to Australia last spring but had to cancel it because of a SARS epidemic in that part of the world. In retrospect, the cancelation was a blessing.

''Yeah, because we wouldn't have had Major or Dane,'' Peterson says.

Because Wingate and Bradshaw are now enrolled and practicing with the team, both are eligible for the trip to the Carribean.

Peterson's goal this preseason is pretty simple.

''I want to get everybody in situations where they get meaningful minutes,'' he says. ''I want to get the younger guys a lot of time on the defensive end and get them fundamentally sound defensively.''

With so many newcomers on this team, Peterson says he'll have to do more teaching than normal this preseason.

''A younger team needs to be spoken to a lot more, needs leadership from the coaches,'' he says. ''A lot of times we'll meet a little bit extra, compared to when you've got a veteran ballclub. You pay more attention to details. For younger players, that's very important -- little things on the practice plan or the offensive or defensive end. Just pay attention to details.

''I'm going to have to talk to them a little more than I would a veteran club. But that's part of coaching. You get into the mental part a lot more with a younger bunch.''

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