Second time's a charm

Last year, a dozen Tennessee basketball players had no clue what to expect from first-year coach Bruce Pearl. This year, six returnees have an idea and only five freshmen have no clue what to expect from second-year coach Bruce Pearl.

That's progress, right? Whereas the entire team had to learn the new coach's system and expectations last season, only half the team faces that challenge this season. That should help the Vols progress more rapidly in 2006-07 than they did in 2005-06.

"I think that's the key," 6-9 sophomore Ryan Childress said.

Although he has played just one year of college ball, Childress feels a responsibility to help the five freshmen adapt to their new coach and their new offensive and defensive responsibilities.

"When you have a lot of freshmen coming in, you've got to set the bar high," Childress noted. "You've got to lead the way a little bit. You've got to show ‘em what Tennessee basketball is all about. That's in the hands of us upperclassmen."

Realizing he had mistakenly referred to himself as an upperclassman, the towering sophomore smiled sheepishly before adding:

"When you say upperclassmen … I'm a sophomore and we've got three juniors and a senior. We've only been here a year or two but that's considered a veteran right now."

Like Childress, junior guard JaJuan Smith believes having a year's experience in Pearl's system is a big advantage for the 2006-07 Vols.

"I think that's going to help us a lot," he said. "We as upperclassmen have to pass that down, get the young ones on the right track real fast."

Tennessee's 2005-06 players spent November, December and early January learning Pearl's system. By February, however, they were familiar with it and clicking on all cylinders. The Vols won eight consecutive games in late January and February. Now the returning players hope to help the rookies progress in similar fashion this season.

"There's a few of us who know what to expect," Smith said. "Now we're teaching the young guys, trying to put them on the right road about what to expect."

Although the six returnees now have a good working knowledge of Pearl's system, the five freshmen – all of whom project to play key roles – are totally clueless. Thus, Smith thinks the learning curve will be just as important this season as it was last season.

"We're at the same spot we were last year," he said, "because there's a lot of young guys that don't know what to expect."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories