"Most of them are real far ahead of what you'd expect, as far as freshmen. They're adapting to the game real fast."
"I think all three of those freshmen can come in and play right away," assistant coach Jason Shay says. "Are they starters or coming off the bench? That's to be determined but they all are talented enough to play."
All three seem to be perfect fits for Bruce Pearl's high-energy style of play. Chism, Crews and Smith are hard-nosed players who battle ferociously and consider second place unacceptable.
"They're all competitive," Shay notes. "They come in wanting to win but the biggest thing is they've come in wanting to learn. That should help the learning curve and speed up the process."
Chism, Crews and Smith have more raw talent than the guys they hope to replace – 2005-06 starters Major Wingate, Andre Patterson and C.J. Watson. Wingate, Patterson and Watson had considerable college experience, however, whereas Chism, Crews and Smith have none.
"I think we are more talented than we were a year ago," Shay notes. "We're probably a little deeper, as far as the number of guys we can play, but we're going to be inexperienced."
Of course, players with ample talent and little experience routinely outperform players with ample experience and little talent. That's why Shay is downplaying the lack of maturity on this year's Vol squad.
"You can win with young guys in basketball," he says. "In football it's a little tougher but it's been proven in the past that you can win with younger guys in basketball. Still, it's a difficult chore."
One thing's for certain: If Tennessee's freshmen fall short of expectations, it won't be because they failed to set lofty goals.
"Those guys want to come in and win a national championship," Shay notes. "They competed at the highest level in high school and they want to do the same now at the collegiate level.
"If we are successful their future is bright."
"The key is that they don't let the hype go to their heads," JaJuan Smith says. "Just work hard every day and they'll be somewhat special one day."
Senior forward Dane Bradshaw thinks Tennessee teammates and fans can't let the hype surrounding these heralded rookies go to their heads, either.
"I think we have to realize they're 18-year-old freshmen and to be patient with ‘em," he says. "In the long run, when it comes March, they'll have the experience they need to really help us to get to that next level we're trying to get to."