Low profile, high upside

Incoming freshmen typically get a lot of attention when Tennessee basketball practice begins. So does a heralded transfer like Tyler Smith, who was a third-team All-Big Ten selection as a freshman at Iowa last winter.

While Smith has been sharing the spotlight with freshmen Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum, J.P. Prince has become the Vols' forgotten man. He was not heavily recruited by Tennessee coming out of high school. He was not very successful during 1½ seasons at the University of Arizona. In addition, he won't be eligible to play until January.

All of these factors have many Vol fans overlooking Prince, but Vol head coach Bruce Pearl is not. He thinks the 6-7, 205-pound Memphis native is going to be a heck of a player for Tennessee once he becomes eligible at mid-season.

"J.P. Prince makes you 'oooh' and 'ahhhh' every now and then," Pearl said recently. "He can do some things that are very exciting, and he has great upside."

Prince is unlikely to start but he can provide depth at every position except the post. He has the height to fill in at power forward. He has the versatility to play small forward and the agility to play shooting guard. He even has the ball-handling skills to play the point.

"He's a very versatile player, a very smart player," Pearl said. "Offensively, he looks like he's got some real ability to get to the rim and make other people better. He doesn't turn it over much. I'm always searching for that third point guard, and J.P. has shown – of all the guys here – that he has maybe the best ability to handle the ball."

Whereas Prince already figures prominently in Tennessee's 2007-08 plans, Williams (6-10, 267) and Tatum (6-6, 190) are still trying to earn spots in the playing rotation. Williams trails Wayne Chism, Ryan Childress and Duke Crews (currently suspended) in the battle for playing time in the post. Tatum is battling veterans Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Jordan Howell, Josh Tabb (currently injured) and Prince for playing time at the small forward/shooting guard spots.

Pearl said he is "very happy with the freshmen," adding: "Those guys may earn their way into the rotation. They're working at it and they're close. They're right there. But it would be nice to have the luxury of not having to force minutes upon them."

Given the glut of experienced talent on Tennessee's roster, Williams and Tatum may be redshirted this season. Pearl doesn't want them slacking in practice, however, so he'll withhold that decision until later.

"We'll talk redshirting the day before the first exhibition game," the said. "Right now they need to have at it. They need to show me."

Whether or not Williams and Tatum play this fall, both have shown enough skill in early workouts to convince the coaching staff they will be quality players someday.

"I want expectations to be reasonable but I'm very pleased," Pearl said. "They are who I thought they were."


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