Gator exodus to NBA helps UT

No one in college basketball was more successful against the two-time defending national champ Florida Gators the past two years than Tennessee. The Vols won three of four head-to-head meetings in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Still, no one in college basketball was more encouraged to see Florida juniors Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green elect to bypass their senior seasons than Tennessee.

"I'm very happy for them," Vol aide Steve Forbes said earlier this week, laughing as he added: "And I'm very happy they're out of the league."

Although Noah, Horford, Brewer and Green were exceptional college players, it was their chemistry, unselfishness and teamwork that enabled them to win back-to-back NCAA titles. They deserve a lot of credit for putting the team ahead of their individual goals.

"They played together as a team," Forbes said. "I'm happy for them. In this life a lot of times you get what you deserve. They deserve everything they have gotten and everything they get."

After three years of putting Florida first, the four juniors now put themselves first by pursuing lucrative careers in the National Basketball Association. Noah, Horford and Brewer are projected as lottery picks in the upcoming draft. Green is pegged as a second-rounder.

"They had unbelievable careers at Florida – two national titles – and now they're moving on to the next level," Forbes said. "It looks like each of them got better from the time he spent there, which is a credit to them and their coaches."

With Florida losing the nucleus of its two national title teams, Tennessee is being touted as the rising power in the Southeastern Conference for 2007-08. Naturally, Vol coaches view this with mixed emotions. They appreciate the attention but caution that it's all just hype at this stage.

"On paper you can project anything," Forbes said. "It's great to have a lot of guys back. We're glad to have the guys back – we like the guys we have back – and whatever goes with that, you have to accept it.

"But you still have to play 'em one game at a time. This is a really good league with a lot of good teams in it. Look at Florida. They lost four great players but there's five other ones waiting to play.

"It's great to get all of the preseason accolades but, in the end, it all comes down to this: You still have to do it on the floor."

RECRUITING UPDATE: The Vols landed 2006-07 starting point guard Ramar Smith during last year's spring signing period but they may be inactive this spring. Tennessee added two players last November – Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum – but freed up a scholarship when Tony Passley was dismissed earlier this year.

Rodney Alexander, a 6-7 forward from Passley's old school – Redlands (Oklahoma) Community College – will visit the UT campus this weekend. Whether Tennessee offers a scholarship remains to be seen. There's a good chance the Vols will be content to enter 2007-08 with Williams, Tatum and Arizona transfer J.P. Prince as their only newcomers.

"That's up in the air right now," Forbes said. "If there's someone we think can be a good player for us, we'll try to get him. If not, we'll hold the scholarship for next year and move on."

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