Pearl's a dynamo

I stopped by Stokely Athletics Center Friday to get my first up-close look at a Bruce Pearl basketball practice. Simply put: I liked what I saw. A lot.

Shortly after he took the Vol job Pearl quipped that practice observers will think he's on the verge of a heart attack. After watching how much energy he expends, I'm not so sure he was joking. He's a perpetual motion machine – following every play with his legs, as well as his eyes. And he NEVER stops coaching. He critiques every mistake, compliments every positive and somehow seems to see what all 10 guys are doing at all times.

Another thing: All of that "up-tempo" stuff wasn't just talk. I'm not sure the sprinters on UT's track team run as much each day as Pearl's troops. The Vols go up and down the floor like racehorses, with assistant coaches exhorting them all the while. Oh, yeah. That's another difference between the old regime and the new regime: Whereas Buzz Peterson's aides might as well have been mutes, Pearl's assistants are just as vocal and animated as the head coach. Nobody leaves practice wearing a dry shirt.

Forty minutes of practice isn't enough to draw any hard and fast conclusions about personnel, so we'll just call these casual observations:

1. Stanley Asumnu is playing loose and relaxed again. He's a bundle of energy, not the bundle of nerves he became the past two seasons. Asumnu made some really athletic drives and follow dunks while I was watching. He also jacked up some ill-advised 3-pointers that missed badly. I kept waiting for Pearl to chew him out – or at least caution him to use better judgment – but the coach never did.

2. Damion Harris, the 6-foot-9, 275-pound freshman, appears to have lost at least 20 pounds since he played in the adidas all-star game at Knoxville roughly 18 months ago. He's still raw but he's showing a bit more polish than the last time I saw him.

3. JaJuan Smith, the former walk-on from Athens, looks like a pretty capable reserve at both shooting guard and point guard. He certainly has the quickness and athleticism to fit nicely into Pearl's high-speed offense.

4. After three years operating Peterson's halfcourt attack, C.J. Watson seems to be adapting nicely to the faster tempo Pearl is installing. I thought C.J. might lack the quickness to run a transition attack but he looked pretty good doing so on Friday.

5. Sharp-shooting Chris Lofton should get a lot of open looks in Pearl's transition attack. I knew Lofton was deadly as a stand-still shooter but I didn't know if he could shoot on the move. Based on what I saw Friday, he shoots quite well on the move.

6. The Vols are embracing Pearl's fast-paced style of basketball, and I'm sure fans will, too. The 2005 team may not be appreciably better than last year's but it'll be a whole lot more fun to watch.


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