Nothing But the Best

Next month's NBA Draft should have familiar ring to Tennessee fans given that five of the top six and seven of the projected top 10 lottery picks were frequent foes for the Vols over the last two seasons.

Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden, who UT faced twice last season including the season finale in the NCAA Tournament, is the consensus No. 1 pick. The 7-0, 245 post player averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. He blocked Ramar Smith's shot at the buzzer to preserve the Buckeyes 85-84 win. Despite being only 19 years old, many GMs feel Oden will immediately become the league's No. 2 center behind only Tim Duncan.

Right behind Oden is Texas freshman forward Kevin Durant, 6-10, 190, who averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the Longhorns last season. Needs to add muscle to his frame but is a versatile player who has been called a cross between Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. Durant had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the 111-106 overtime loss to Tennessee in Knoxville.

Brandan Wright is projected No. 4 according to ESPN draft analysts. The 6-10, 210-pound freshman forward from Nashville averaged 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Tar Heels. He hit 9-of-10 field goals for 19 points and he grabbed 10 rebounds in North Carolina's 101-87 victory over the Vols at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Florida junior power forward Al Horford, 6-9, 235, who anchored the Gators post during back-to-back NCAA title runs projects No. 5 in the draft. He averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds last season and 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore. The son of former NBA player Tito Horford, shot .608 from the field in each of those championship campaigns.

Projecting No. 6 in the upcoming Draft is Florida's Corey Brewer, who is a native of Portland, Tenn. The 6-8, 185, shooting guard is 21 years old and coming off a standout junior season in which he averaged 13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Brewer was the object of an intense recruiting battle between the Gators and Vols three years ago. His decision to sign with Florida helped to grease the skids for Buzz Peterson's exit. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Gators win over UT in Gainesville and had 12 points and 12 boards in the loss at Knoxville three weeks later.

Ohio State's Mike Conley Jr. is regarded as the No. 1 point guard available in the Draft and No. 8 overall, although he could go earlier. He was a real thorn in the side of Tennessee this year. He scored 16 points including the game-winner in the Buckeyes 68-66 victory at Columbus and he scored 17 in the NCAA meeting at San Antonio.

Joakim Noah, 6-11, 230, may have been the top pick if he had come out for the 2006 NBA Draft but now he projects at No. 10 according to ESPN. The Florida junior scored 19 points against the Vols in Gainesville but only had eight points and three rebounds in the loss at Knoxville. He averaged 12 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season after averaging 14.1 and 7.1 as a sophomore. Other than rebounding his shooting percentage, free throw percentage and blocked shots all dipped in 2007. However he's an outstanding athlete, good defender and plays with a lot of energy.

When you consider the collection of talent Florida had it makes UT's three wins in four meetings the last two years seem all the more remarkable. Furthermore, the Vols finished 4-4 over the last two years against teams with projected 2007 lottery picks. The two losses to Ohio State were by a total of three points. UT held its own playing against the top front line players in college basketball last season despite not having a true center and using two true freshmen forwards along with Dane Bradshaw, a 6-3 senior who doesn't project among the top 100 players available for the NBA Draft.

Other players Tennessee squared off against last year that project as possible first round picks are Ohio State shooting guard Daequan, Vanderbilt small forward Derrick Byars, LSU jumbo forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Florida point guard Taurean Green.

Other points gleaned from the projected Draft picks are that two of the top six players are from Tennessee as is Georgia Tech's Thaddeus Young (Memphis) who is projected No. 16.

Also the average age of the top four projected picks in next month's draft is 18.5 years, an indication experience can be overrated.

Clearly Bruce Pearl has achieved impressive results since his arrival two years ago. Imagine what he can accomplish given more talent and time.

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