Can JaJuan fill the bill?

It sounds impossible – at least implausible – but former walk-on JaJuan Smith could be the Tennessee basketball program's most pleasant surprise two years in a row.

The 6-2, 190-pound sophomore from McMinn County High School performed so well in preseason drills last year that outgoing coach Buzz Peterson gave him a scholarship. Smith is peforming so well this year that incoming coach Bruce Pearl may give him substantial minutes at both shooting guard and point guard.

Last year's No. 2 point guard, Dane Bradshaw, was outquicked by some of the SEC's slicker guards on occasion. Smith has the quickness to stay with just about anybody in the league.

"I feel very good about getting the chance to play some at the 1 (point)," Smith said recently. "And I think I'm going to be playing a lot as the 2 guard, so I'm looking forward to that."

Smith enjoyed a solid rookie year in 2004-05. He averaged just 8 minutes per game for the season but played 11.4 minutes per game in the Vols' final nine regular-season outings. He produced six points in 13 minutes against UT-Chattanooga and was the first sub off the bench two weeks later against New Mexico. He matched his season-high with six points against No. 17 Alabama in February.

Smith should be even more productive this season, since Peterson's lethargic halfcourt offense has given way to Pearl's high-octane transition attack. Smith has embraced the change.

"That's what I came to college for … to play this type of ball," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing for Coach Pearl. Everybody's excited. We can't wait."

For a guy who arrived at UT as a walk-on, Smith has an abundance of confidence. Asked what he brings to the team, he replied: "Defense, quickness, shooting … I bring a lot to the table. I think my defensive intensity will help me and my teammates come through this year."

Although the Vols have been limited to a few hours of supervised practice work to date, Smith already senses a difference between the 2005-06 team and last year's team.

"Me and my teammates have confidence going into this season," he said. "That means a lot. You've got to have confidence before you can do anything."

Many observers question whether Tennessee's players are athletic enough to play Pearl's fast-paced style. Smith insists they are, and he thinks Vol coaches believe so, too.

"They know what we're capable of doing," he said. "We've just got to show ‘em they've got the right tools to make it

Inside Tennessee Top Stories