Power at forward

All of those Tennessee basketball fans worried about the departure of 2006-07 power forward Dane Bradshaw can relax. Instead of a weakness, the 4 spot might be the Vols' strongest position this season.

Operating on the theory that two heads are better than one, head coach Bruce Pearl is platooning Ryan Childress and Tyler Smith. All they did in Monday night's 124-61 exhibition blowout of Div. II Lincoln Memorial was combine for 36 points and 13 rebounds. Childress led in both points (19) and rebounds (8), while Smith came off the bench to hit 8 of 9 shots, finishing with 17 points and 5 rebounds.

Basically, the 6-9, 240-pound Childress is tough as nails, whereas the 6-7, 215-pound Smith is smooth as silk. They seem to be the perfect complement to one another.

"Yeah ... the athleticism and then we've got the guy that wants to elbow you," Childress said with a laugh. "It's good. We know we've got a great thing going – 20 minutes apiece – and we know we'll be the freshest 4 man out there. We'll be the best 4 man out there, and that's the idea when you've got 10 or 11 guys in the rotation."

Tennessee never got 36 points and 13 rebounds in a game from Bradshaw, so the production of Childress and Smith vs. LMU was certainly encouraging.

"It was good," Pearl said, showing considerable restraint. "Ryan played very well. Tyler only misses one shot in 18 minutes, with three assists and one turnover. He was real productive."

Sophomore point guard Ramar Smith was a little more complimentary in his assessment of the power forward tandem.

"Oh, man, they're great," he said. "When you've got two great players at the 4 it's always good. They're two energized guys that are going to play good, day in and day out."

Both Childress and Tyler Smith are highly motivated. Childress was signed as something of a last resort in 2005, after the Vols lost out on several more-heralded prospects. He has worked diligently to earn playing time and respect. Smith, meanwhile, is dedicating this season to his father, who died in late September after a battle with cancer.

Both players are excited about Tennessee's outlook for 2007-08. Childress thinks this team is better than last year's squad that went 24-11 and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.

"I think we're a little more ready," he said. "We had the leadership of Dane Bradshaw last year but we had a lot of young guys last year and they didn't really know where we were going or what we were doing. We've got some new guys this year – some transfers – and they've blended well for us."

Smith, who earned third-team All-Big Ten honors as a freshman at Iowa before transferring to Tennessee over the summer, loves the team chemistry he has encountered within the Vol ranks.

"The best thing is just the guys," he said. "I don't think it has nothing to do with my talent, basketball-wise. It's our relationship, having fun. You can have a lot of teams with great talent but if they don't like each other there's not anything (good) going to happen. All of us jell together well, and it shows on the court."

Childress lacks superior athleticism but he more than offsets any deficiencies with an abundance of aggression and hustle. He displayed these traits in the LMU game, even after the contest turned into a rout.

"When you play the game with this jersey on you've always got to be ready to play, no matter who the opponent is," he said. "Whether it's an opponent you're supposed to kill, somebody that's supposed to give you a good game or somebody that's supposed to beat you, you've got to bring the same mentality every game.

"You can't just flip the switch on and off. You've got to be ready all the time."

Ryan Childress is ready all the time. So is Tyler Smith. Tennessee's opponents had better be ready for both of them.


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