Critics don't worry Jon Higgins

With NBA draft picks Marcus Haislip and Vincent Yarbrough missing from a UT basketball program that went 14-15 last year WITH them, many analysts are projecting gloom and doom for the 2002-03 Vols. That doesn't bother senior guard Jon Higgins one bit.

''You can't really affect anybody's opinion,'' he said this week. ''If they want to write us off, they can write us off. All I'm going to say is: Don't be surprised when we go out there and win a couple of games and people start taking notice. They're going to be thinking: 'Those Tennessee boys are for real. They come ready to play every night.' ''

The return of Ron Slay, who missed the final 15 games of last season with a torn ACL, looms large in Tennessee's hopes of achieving a bounce-back year. The flamboyant 6-foot-8 forward averaged 14.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game prior to his injury. He also provides an emotional lift whenever he's on the court.

''Having Ron back is really going to help us,'' Higgins said. ''And everybody else is a year older and wiser. You can write us off now but don't be surprised when we come out of the gate and have a good record going into SEC play.''

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