Likewise, Prince could have more easily landed in his hometown and played for the Memphis Tigers when he decided to transfer from Arizona. However the chance to be a part of the renaissance of Tennessee basketball proved too tempting to resist. When he becomes eligible in January and joins what the Vols hope will be a top ten team, it will also become a team with a distinct Tennessee flavor as JaJuan Smith, Tyler Smith and Prince will represent east, middle and west Tennessee, respectively.
Why is this important?
Well it's entirely appropriate that the state university features in-state players in prominent roles, but it's important because the great state of Tennessee is generally loaded with high-profile basketball prospects. Unlike in football, the state produces more than enough hardwood talent to largely sustain Pearl's program on a high level. In fact, it did just that for Florida where Cory Brewer and Lee Humphreys were keys to the Gators consecutive NCAA title runs. Ditto for Brendan Wright's contributions to North Carolina's Final Four finish as well as the Volunteer State standouts populating other programs beyond the borders.
As significant as the substance of Pearl's success at UT is, the style he employs makes his program all the more appealing to prospects. It's played at a rapid pace which requires a deep bench and assures an eight to ten player rotation be utilized. It demands discipline and dedication to transition from swarming defense to supersonic offense but it's the type of challenge big-time prospects seek to showcase their skills for the NBA and prepare them for a basketball career at the highest level.
In Smith and Prince the Vols have added a couple of topflight talents with a season of high major experience. In addition to outstanding athleticism they bring great versatility and can man four of the five starting positions between them. This creates a level of flexibility Pearl hasn't enjoyed in his first two seasons in Knoxville, and allows him to exploit match-up advantages instead of trying to compensate for an array of disadvantages.
Furthermore, the transfers along with a pair of incoming freshmen who each have an extra year of prep school experience, allows Pearl to be more selective on who he signs in the Class of 2008. It also provides a error margin to take risks in recruiting ,whether it's waiting until spring to sign prospects or signing a high-potential player that may need time to develop.
As things currently stand Elliot Williams of St. George's High School in Collierville appears to be UT's top target. The five-star shooting guard is rated No. 5 in the nation at his position and is a top 25 prospect overall. He becomes even more important to the Vols since No. 4 shooting guard Ian Shumpert recently dropped UT from his favorites list. Williams is taking a hard look at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Memphis and Virginia. He also has interest in Duke, which he visited unofficially, North Carolina and Texas, although he doesn't have offers from any of those schools. His decision does not appear imminent and could stretch into next year.
Williams impressed observers at the NBA Camp last week and when asked by Steve Clark of The Devils' Den about Bruce Pearl's body painting in support of the Lady Vols last season, he said:
"Man, when I saw that, I'll admit, I was laughing real hard. Bruce is such a funny dude and I like talking with him, he's down to earth like Coach K is and he's real easy to approach. I just think that's him revealing his personality, which I really appreciate about him and other coaches, I like a coach who is not afraid of being himself."
Who can argue with success?