Tyler Smith Critical To Vols

As important as Tennessee's season opener against UNLV is to the Vols 2004 football campaign, it might be just as critical to the future of Tennessee's basketball program.

The reason: Tyler Smith.

The 6-foot-6 wing forward from Giles County High School in Pulaski, Tenn., will make the first official visit on his fall tour of schools that may also include stops at Kansas and Alabama. Regarded as a consensus top 50 prospect and one of the top two high school players in Tennessee, Smith is a high profile target the Vols have diligently pursued for better than two years.

His significance to the Vols hoop fortunes grew exponentially with the loss of Corey Brewer to Florida last year and recent word that shooting guard Jamont Gordon looks like a lean to Memphis after months of seeming to favor Tennessee.

"I've been watching Memphis a lot and I really like Coach (John) Calipari," Gordon told the Insiders Jeff Goodman on Aug. 13. "I like their offense. I like Tennessee's program, but to me they don't have as many good players as Memphis."

Gordon is rated the nation's No. 7 shooting guard by The Insiders. He played his high school ball at Nashville Glencliff High School but will play for Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) as a senior. Memphis reportedly has yet to officially offer Gordon a scholarship, but that appears to be a formality at this point. The 6-foot-3 averaged 28 points per game as a junior.

The losses of Brewer and Gordon along with recent strikeouts in talent-rich Memphis, make Smith a key for Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson, who proclaimed retaining top in-state hardwood talent as his first priority. The Vols have failed to reach the NCAA Tournament in Peterson's first three seasons and are a long shot to make it in 2004-05 with only 10 scholarship players on the roster and the program in a state of flux created by players transferring in and out. During its three years under Peterson's guidance Tennessee has accepted five transfers and had eight other players leave the program. Both of the Vols November 2003 signees failed to enroll in school. UT did add Kentucky guard Chris Lofton in April.

Smith averaged 22 points and eight rebounds per game last season, leading Giles County to the state title. He was named Co-MVP of the addias Superstar Camp in Suwanee, Ga., this summer. He shared that honor with Duke commitment Greg Paulus.

"There's a lot of pressure to stay here," Smith told The Insiders Dave Telep at the USA Basketball Festival Youth Development Festival held at Colorado Springs this summer. "A lot of Giles County fans bleed orange. It's my decision and I have to see what is the best option for me. In a way it helps. I wouldn't want to disrespect everyone at home. But, if I have a better option I wouldn't want to pass it up if it's right."

Smith's September visit is Tennessee's best chance to prove there's no better option.

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