Might makes right

Bruce Pearl's first Tennessee basketball team won't intimidate opponents with its size but it just might intimidate them with its strength.

The departure of 6-10 Brandon Crump, the recent dismissal of 6-foot-8 Jemere Hendrix and the simultaneous suspension of 6-7 Andre Patterson has left Pearl's roster a bit short on size, as well as talent. As a result, the new coach may occasionally play 6-4 Dane Bradshaw at power forward. That isn't the ideal situation but Pearl is a guy who makes adjustments, not excuses.

"There are times when we'll have to play smaller than you would normally play," he said this week. "There are some opponents that will bother and there are some opponents whose size will overwhelm us. We'll have to do different things – spread the floor, use 94 feet. With size, the advantage usually (matters most) in a halfcourt situation. The way we play over 94 feet size it's less of a factor. We can withstand playing a smaller lineup."

Tennessee's size got a boost when incoming freshmen Ryan Childress (6-9, 250) and Damion Harris (6-10, 275) enrolled for fall classes. They're raw but, again, Pearl chooses to make adjustments, rather than excuses.

"I'm very pleased with both of them and the progress that they've made," the new coach said. "I think we are fortunate to have them. It is way too early to talk about what role they might play on this team but I certainly think one of them will be thrown into the fire in a big, big way. They both have promise and they both have a good upside, so I'm very pleased to have them."

Since Pearl can't make the Vols taller, he's trying to make them stronger and tougher. Tennessee is devoting a lot of time to weight-lifting and conditioning this preseason.

"Troy Wills and our strength and conditioning staff have done a great job," Pearl noted. "They've done a fine job with some of the plyometric training and some of the field work, and the results I've seen have been very positive. We are stronger and we are bigger. We aren't any taller, but we're cut and we're strong. We're going in the right direction."

To keep Tennessee "going in the right direction," Pearl occasionally participates in weight-training, too. He recently spiced up a workout by stretching out on the weight bench and showing off a few muscles of his own. Naturally, his players were surprised.

"Yes, I was," senior guard C.J. Watson said. "I thought he'd be standing there watching us, telling us what to do. But he actually got in there and started lifting with us. That made me accept him even more."

So, how many pounds did Pearl bench-press?

"He benched more than Andre," Watson said. "That's all I know."

Whether Pearl can outcoach Kentucky's Tubby Smith remains to be seen. At least the Vol coach can outlift him.

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