Update on Pearl's starters

Three starters return from a 2005-06 University of Tennessee basketball team that went 22-8, won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.

Two of the three returning starters are sidelined at present, however. One – 6-4 forward Dane Bradshaw – is sidelined by injury. The other – 6-10 center Major Wingate – is sidelined by suspension. Thus, only one returning starter – 6-2 guard Chris Lofton – is a full-fledged member of the team at this time.

Lofton averaged 17.5 points per game as a sophomore last season and drained 46 percent of his 3-point tries. He appears primed for a huge junior season.

"Chris obviously has established himself as one of best shooters in the country," head coach Bruce Pearl conceded recently, "but he's working hard on improving his overall game. He didn't get to the free-throw line as often as we'd like."

Indeed. In 27 regular-season games, Lofton shot just 58 free throws, hitting 54 for a sizzling 93.1 percent. Since Lofton has the ability to drive to the basket and draw fouls, Pearl would love to see him do so more often in 2006-07.

"He's pretty good off the dribble," Pearl noted.

Bradshaw played the last two months of the 2005-06 season with ligament damage in his right wrist that limited his ability to shoot the ball. Even so, he started every game and showed tremendous determination. He underwent surgery to re-attach the ligament at season's end and is still rehabilitating.

"Dane should be one of those guys talked about as much as anybody, as far as what happened last year at Tennessee," Pearl said. "He was a large part of it."

Bradshaw was a relatively unproductive combo guard his first two years on campus. As a junior, however, he moved to power forward and found a home.

"Dane was somewhat maligned as a sophomore," Pearl recalled. "Some people didn't think he belonged in the league."

Bradshaw's wrist has kept him from shooting jump shots this summer but it hasn't kept him from working on other aspects of his game.

"Dane played with one hand tied behind his back most of the SEC season," Pearl noted. "He's been unable to shoot because of the surgery and rehab but he's trained hard in some other areas."

Wingate was suspended following a failed substance test shortly after the 2005-06 season ended. He is still working his way back into Pearl's good graces.

"Major is under suspension but I'm hopeful he'll do things on and off the court to get himself back in good standing in the fall," the coach said. "I was very excited about Major's progression last year."

Wingate looms as a key figure for the season ahead. He finished ‘05-06 with a flourish, playing his best basketball of the year in the NCAA Tournament. He has the size and experience to be one of the SEC's premier centers in 2006-07.

"One thing I noticed last year is that there's great point guard and center play in this league," Pearl said. "We're very fortunate to have Major Wingate because he could at least allow us to hang in there with our lack of size at the center spot.

"Major's working hard and improving his individual game. Toward the end of last year you saw him play with a great deal of passion. I expect him to continue to improve."

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