Basically, the Big Orange has four guys available to play two inside positions – freshmen Chism and Crews, sophomore Ryan Childress and senior Dane Bradshaw. That sounds simple enough, but head coach Bruce Pearl says the post outlook is even simpler than that:
"It's really, really easy to break it down," he says. "It's simple: Duke Crews as a freshman is going to have to replace Andre Patterson as a senior. Wayne Chism as a freshman is going to have to replace Major Wingate as a junior. Then Bradshaw and Childress need to be better than they were a year ago."
Chism and Crews have more talent than the guys they are replacing but they're sure to suffer some growing pains due to inexperience. On a positive note, Bradshaw and Childress should be significantly improved. The injured right wrist that severely hampered Bradshaw the last six weeks of the 2005-06 season is fully healed. Childress, after losing 17 pounds and gaining some quickness, should be a much more effective inside man this season, as well.
For those keeping score at home, Tennessee's post game for 2006-07 consists of a senior who has played just one year on the inside (Bradshaw), a sophomore who averaged less than six minutes per game last winter (Childress) and two freshmen who have never suited up for a college game.
Given the glaring youth and inexperience of Tennessee's post quartet, the Vols desperately need for the 6-foot-9 Childress to step up his game. Although he is relatively inexperienced himself, he understands that he has to grow up in a hurry.
"Just mature," he says. "I learned a lot from Major, Andre and Dane last year and now I'm trying to apply those lessons this year the best I can and get the best results for the team."
Crews and Chism are learning and applying their lessons, too. The two freshmen seem determined to progress at the fastest pace possible.
"Duke Crews is catching up fast to where Andre was," Pearl notes. "And Wayne is catching up to where Major is. But we can't afford an injury on the front line."
Because Tennessee is so thin up front, there's a possibility the head coach will go with a three-guard lineup featuring Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, plus either Jordan Howell, Ramar Smith or Marques Johnson at the point.
However the lineup shakes out, Childress believes the Vols have enough talent to overcome their youth and inexperience on the inside.
"We've surrounded ourselves with good people – the young guys coming in, as well as the players back from last year," he says, "so I think as a team we just need to push ourselves to be the best we can."