Who'll play the point?

How important is the point guard in Bruce Pearl's uptempo, frenetic style of play? ``We're gonna find out next year, aren't we?'' said Tennessee's second-year coach. He already has an idea. Only once in his previous 14 years as a head coach has Pearl been, as he called it, ``point-guard less.''

The result: a 16-13 record in his first season at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the only non-20-game winner he's coached. ``It was an issue,'' Pearl said. Pearl won 22 games in his first season at Tennessee, surpassing anyone's expectations. He won the SEC East Division. He secured a No. 2 seed – the program's highest ever – in the NCAA Tournament. He missed the Sweet 16 by one game. He did so with C.J. Watson, one of the SEC's most complete point guards. Watson could shoot outside, can free throws, drive to the basket, pass and play defense.

``C.J. Watson was terrific on and off the ball in so many different ways,'' Pearl said. ``He might not have been our best player, but he probably was our most valuable player and he was steady. He was good at absolutely everything.''

Tennessee probably won't have a point guard who is good at absolutely everything. But they'll have enough talent to be productive, Pearl believes.

``C.J. was a complete player,'' Pearl said. ``He's a guy that gave our kids the most confidence. I can't imagine any of our freshmen being that complete. They all have dimensions but they're clearly good enough.''

The most talented is Ramar Smith from Detroit, a top-30 guard prospect. At 6-6, Marques Johnson has played inside throughout his high school career, but he's played point guard during summer AAU games and he was rated one of the top five point guards by one recruiting analyst. Josh Tabb played the point at a Cincinnati prep school and averaged 7.5 assists.

``I think Smith and Johnson could start because of their maturity,'' Pearl said. ``Tabb is also physically mature.''

The other point guard possibilities are Jordan Howell, a junior who played sparingly last season, and Dane Bradshaw, who was moved to power forward because he's not quick enough to play on the perimeter against SEC competition.

``I'm confident that between Howell and Bradshaw returning and the three freshmen that we'll have a couple of guys able to play that position,'' Pearl said. ``I definitely think they're all capable. Who is going to have the mentality to play it? I'm going to have to make a decision fairly early in practice – which guys will I put the ball in their hands and who will I put off the ball. Right now, I don't have enough information to answer that question.

``But I think we've got some guys that will take the pressure off the point guard. There could be times I have a freshman point guard, a freshman power forward to bring the ball in bounds, and two freshmen in the back court.''

Pearl was asked if his Vols would be easier to defend by opponents if his point guards are one dimensional.

``The question is going to be whether teams press us and try to take advantage of our inexperience in the backcourt,'' Pearl said. ``That'd be the one thing I'd be concerned with. They say you should press a pressing team. I think people will look to do that – extend their defense and turn our inexperienced guards over.''

Pearl said his system is not complicated.

``Our system is pretty simple,'' Pearl said. ``We'll advance the ball down the floor and it's going to be fairly uptempo. It's not a lot of motion where I have to have a point guard deliver a pass with great perfection to initiate the offense every time.''

So, how important is the point guard position in Pearl's scheme?

``I think it's real important,'' Pearl said. ``I've always been blessed to have really good point guards.''

If he has a really good point guard this season, the Vols would record another 20-win season.


Pearl's first-year success and charisma has made a huge difference in his summer camps.

Last year, Pearl's camps averaged about 100 per session. This year, each of his sessions has sold out with about 350 kids, Pearl said.


Wing player Tony Passley, who redshirted last season after transferring to Tennessee from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, likely will be reinstated in the next week to 10 days, Pearl said Tuesday.

``It does look favorable,'' Pearl said of Passley's return.

Passley was arrested on a drug-related charge – possession of marijuana -- and suspended indefinitely. He has one more hurdle to clear before rejoining the team.


Marq Murden of Middleton High School said he would walk-on at Tennessee.

But the Vols' staff hasn't agreed to that arrangement – not yet, at least.

``We have only one invited walk-on now and that's Pearl,'' Pearl said of his son, Stephen, who averaged more than 21 points at West High School.

A decision on whether to take Murden is expected soon.

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