Ramar's new question

As the 2007-08 season approaches, a lot of Tennessee basketball fans are asking the question: Can Ramar Smith lead the Vols to the Final Four?

That's amazing, considering that this time last year they were asking the question: Can Ramar Smith play the point?

A shooting guard in high school at Mount Clemens, Mich., Smith signed with Tennessee in the spring of 2006 with the understanding he'd be playing lead guard for the Vols. His transition was made even more difficult by the fact he missed a week of preseason work while getting squared away academically.

In the first five games of his freshman season Smith had 19 turnovers and a mere 15 assists. Naturally, many observers wondered if he'd ever be a Div. 1 caliber point guard.

Head coach Bruce Pearl recalls picking up on the widespread skepticism, noting: "I guarantee a lot of people were saying, 'I just don't see it. I don't know if he can be a point guard.'"

Pearl kept the faith, however, certain that Smith would overcome his slow start once he became more familiar with his new system and his new teammates.

"I think a lot of it had to do with the fact he got here late," the coach said.

Smith's struggles would've been even tougher without the assistance of some Vol veterans.

"I had teammates that were helping me and the other freshmen," he recalled. "We learned a lot last year and we're preparing to learn a lot more this year."

Smith's breakout performance came in Game 12 vs. the Texas Longhorns. Playing 38 minutes, the Vol freshman produced 16 points, 9 assists and zero turnovers in an overtime victory.

"The Texas game was just fun, just getting up and down, playing against the guys we got to play against – like Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin, one of the best point guards," Smith said. "Going up against guys like that, you're going to get better and learn more."

Smith must've learned a lot that day because he was a far better player after facing Texas than he was before. Over Tennessee's final 23 games he scored in double figures 19 times and posted 5 or more assists five times. And, except for a 10-turnover game at Ole Miss, he did an excellent job running the offense.

None of this surprised Pearl. He knew Smith's determination would enable him to become a big-time point guard in time.

"I asked the players: Who's the hardest worker on the team? Everybody picked Chris Lofton," Pearl recalled recently. "Who's the best competitor on the team? Most of them said Ramar Smith. You saw that at Vanderbilt. You saw that at Ohio State. He wants to take over."

Smith said he has gotten "stronger and faster" since last year, adding: "And I've been working on my outside shot. There's still a lot of little things I need to work on. When you're only a sophomore, I feel I can get much better if I keep working hard and stay humble."

Pearl concedes that Smith remains a little rough around the edges. Still, the coach is very encouraged by the progress he has witnessed to date.

"He's still got a lot to learn about being a point guard and he's still got a lot to learn about being a leader but he's come a long, long way," the coach said. "There are a lot of people that never thought Ramar Smith could be a point guard."

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