Frosh to play key roles

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl has never had to play two freshmen at once, even during his days at Div. II Southern Indiana. But this year he'll have to play three freshmen at once. Heck, he may have to START three freshmen at once.

There's a good chance the Vols' lineup eventually will consist of senior Dane Bradshaw at one forward spot and junior Chris Lofton at shooting guard, surrounded by three freshmen – Wayne Chism (low post), Duke Crews (forward) and Ramar Smith (point guard).

When asked if he'd ever had to rely so heavily on three freshmen as he may have to this season, Pearl shook his head emphatically.

"No. I've never had to play three freshmen," he said. "I've never had to play two freshmen – not at Wisconsin-Milwaukee or at Southern Indiana. This is absolutely the youngest team I've ever coached."

Asked how many freshmen might start, Pearl shrugged.

"I imagine a couple might have to," he said. "I don't know. That's for the players to determine. That would be a really good question for October 31st. By then I will have had a couple of weeks to sort that thing out."

Pearl is reluctant to project what his lineup will be. He thinks that's an exercise in futility.

"One of the things I always tell coaches is ‘Don't predetermine who is going to start,'" the Vol coach said. "Every player on the team is going to have to earn their playing time and earn the opportunity to start.

"A lot of factors go into it: Where are they academically? Where are they as it relates to things off the court? How hard are they working in preseason? What are they going to show me over these next few weeks?"

Since Tennessee returns just five players from last year's roster, however, the freshmen obviously must play early and play significantly.

"It's pretty safe to say that the freshmen are going to have to contribute," Pearl conceded.

The first official practice is Friday night. Until then Pearl is limited to two hours per week of individual work with each of his players. That's hardly sufficient time to bake a cake, much less mold a basketball team.

"Two hours a week is not enough," Pearl noted. "If you're trying to be an accomplished pianist, if you practice two hours a week, you wouldn't be very accomplished."

Pearl needs more time with Tennessee's freshmen, in particular. He's trying to show them how intense the practice pace is going to be and how fast the game tempo will be once the regular season begins.

"I have been able to at least give them a taste of the intensity," Pearl said. "They know what the intensity is and they know they're going to be asked to play faster than they've ever played before."

The first order of business is to settle on one position for each of the freshmen. The coach figures learning one spot will be challenging enough for each of the rookies. As the season progresses, some of the freshmen might be asked to learn a second position.

As Pearl explained: "That might give us our best chance: to learn those positions and THEN juggle the lineup."

Although the five freshmen have a long way to go, Pearl says they are progressing rapidly.

"You can't believe how fast these guys are growing and how much stronger they've gotten in a really short period of time," he said. "It's incredible."

Because he inherited players left over from the Buzz Peterson era, Pearl had little idea what to expect from the 2005-06 team. Because six of this year's 11 scholarship players have never suited up for a college game, he has very little idea what to expect from the 2006-07 squad.

"Last year I really didn't know what I had," the coach noted. "I've got a little bit better idea of what I have (this year) but I have no idea what I have under fire – none whatsoever – because these guys just haven't been there before."


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