Tyler to be leader?

The bad news: Tennessee's leadership void contributed to Saturday's 70-68 loss at Arkansas, the Vols' fifth straight setback in games decided by five points or less. <P> The good news: Help may be on the way.

Head coach Buzz Peterson thinks November signee Tyler Smith possesses the type of leadership skills Tennessee has been lacking. And that could help turn some of these close losses into close victories.

''Tyler Smith is a vocal person,'' Peterson said during his Monday news conference. ''He's very well-liked by other players. He has the kind of leadership skills to communicate. He'll dive on the floor for a loose ball. He's somebody who can step in there (leadership area) and help us in the future.''

Tennessee won several close games in the waning minutes during ex-Vol Ron Slay's career. Slay often departed from the called play, Peterson noted, but he usually made the clutch baskets when they were needed.

''It might have been ugly,'' the coach added, ''but somehow we won that ball game. I think leadership plays big in it.''

In the two years since Slay left, Tennessee's leadership has been almost non-existent. Senior captains Brandon Crump and Scooter McFadgon are low-key types. Junior point guard C.J. Watson, another captain, would be the ideal leader because of his position but he's even quieter than Crump and McFadgon.

''C.J. and I have had a lot of talks about being verbal,'' Peterson said. ''C.J. says, 'Coach, I can be verbal. I can be that person.' ''

Three years into his college career, however, Watson has not been that person to date.

Peterson mentioned that sophomore guard Dane Bradshaw exhibits some leadership skills. Bradshaw averages just 17 minutes and 3 points per game, however. Clearly, a fulltime player like Watson would be a better fit for a leadership role.

''I want C.J. to be that person,'' Peterson said. ''We NEED him to be that vocal person, to step up and say, 'We're going to win the game,' or 'I want the basketball. I'm going to go win the game.' ''

Tennessee's best player lately has been freshman Chris Lofton, who scored 25 points last Wednesday against South Carolina and 30 Saturday against Arkansas. He missed his final four shots against the Razorbacks, however, and couldn't get an open look on the final possession as Tennessee lost by two points.

''It shouldn't be a freshman trying to win a game for you,'' Peterson said. ''It should be an upperclassman stepping up and wanting to do it.''

If the coach is correct, however, it may be freshman Tyler Smith stepping into the leadership role in 2005-06.

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