Hoop Vols have identity

It's easier to play a fast pace when you have fast players. It's easier to wear out an opponent when you have quality depth. It's easier to play full-court defense when you have superior athletes.

The Tennessee Vols did not have an abundance of fast players, quality depth or superior athletes in 2005-06 or 2006-07. Now they do, thanks to the addition of three newcomers with long arms, fast feet and eye-popping agility – Iowa transfer Tyler Smith, Arizona transfer J. P. Prince and freshman Cameron Tatum.

"They're big wings who are good at running," sophomore point guard Ramar Smith noted recently. "That's what we like to do, so I think it's going to be a perfect fit for their game."

In addition to significantly upgrading Tennessee's athleticism, the three newcomers – plus freshman post Brian Williams – significantly upgrade the Vols' depth, as well. When you play the frantic pace Tennessee does, you need to keep fresh legs in the game. Head coach Bruce Pearl now has that luxury.

"We've got so much depth now we're going to be able to wear people down," Ramar Smith said. "The main thing we're focusing on is defense. We've drilled that into our heads. If we can hold people to a certain amount of points, it's going to be hard to beat us."

Although Tennessee's full-court defense has been very good the past two years, some foes were able to exploit it by throwing the ball over the top of the undersized Vols. The addition of Tyler Smith (6-7, 220), Prince (6-7, 205) and Tatum (6-6, 190) will make that much more difficult in 2007-08 than it was in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

"They can guard the 1 (point) through the 5 (post) because they have long arms and they're fast," Ramar Smith noted. "They just bring more to the game. It's something they like to do and something they do well."

Pearl won 22 games in Year 1 and 24 more in Year 2, even though those teams lacked the speed, athleticism and depth to truly fit his system. In the process, the Vols accomplished two things:

1. They established themselves as a competitive program.

2. They established an identity, a brand of basketball they're known for.

"The biggest thing I felt like Tennessee men's basketball needed was a brand, and we have that," Pearl said. "We are just trying to build on that right now." Basically, Tennessee's identity is that of an up-tempo, high-scoring, fun-to-watch program.

"I have been a head coach for 15 years," Pearl noted, "and for 14 of those years we've led the league in scoring. The one year we didn't lead the league, we finished second.

"We are going to score a lot of points. We are going to get up and down. There is a real commitment to up-tempo transition basketball. We are going to press. We are going to extend defensively. I would like to think that our kids play as hard as anyone in the country. That is something we are proud of."

Tennessee's identity should be even stronger with the addition of Tyler Smith, J.P. Prince and Cameron Tatum.


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