Rookie report

Tennessee's basketball team hasn't come close to jelling but at least the Vols are blending.

Iowa transfer Tyler Smith, along with freshmen Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams, have been slowly but surely identifying their roles and adapting to them during the Vols' first six games of 2007-08. Getting them on the same page with the eight returnees from last season will take more time.

The fact Smith has been the most impressive rookie to date isn't surprising since he already had a season of college ball under his belt before showing up at UT. The 6-7, 215-pound forward is averaging 11.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 23.2 minutes per game. Blessed with maturity, polish and athleticism, he has a great ratio of assists (19) to turnovers (7) and ranks second on the team with 11 steals.

Smith is hitting 54.5 percent of his field-goal tries and showing incredible versatility at both ends of the floor. In Saturday night's loss to Texas, for instance, he nearly posted a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in his best game to date.

"I think Tyler played well this weekend," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "He is starting to get a real feel within the flow of the offense. His rebounding has not been where I expected it to be. He replaced Dane Bradshaw at the four spot and has not gotten more rebounds than Dane."

Tatum has been spectacularly good and spectacularly bad. He is averaging 4.3 points and 2.2 rebounds while playing 11.3 minutes per game. Quick and incredibly athletic, he is shooting 45 percent from the floor and showing flashes on defense (7 steals). However, he tends to get out of control, which is why he has more turnovers (7) than assists (6).

Whether he has the crowd gasping at his brilliance or groaning at his mishaps, the 6-6, 190-pounder is fun to watch. His best outing came against Middle Tennessee, when he posted 9 points, 2 rebounds, 4 steals, an assist and 3 turnovers in 20 eventful minutes.

"Cameron Tatum is going to be terrific," Pearl said. "Offensively, he can make you ‘ooh' and ‘ahh.' His skill package has improved and defensively. He has worked hard at becoming a better defender but that is going to take time physically."

Williams was so raw a year ago that most observers thought he'd redshirt this season. However, he has dropped 50 pounds in the past year (99 pounds over the past two years) and shown he's ready to play at the Div. 1 level right now. At 6-10 and 270 pounds, he provides a physical presence the Vols have been lacking since Major Wingate was dismissed from the squad a little over a year ago.

Williams is averaging 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game. Surprisingly smooth around the basket, he is shooting an eye-popping 87.5 percent (7 of 8) from the field. His best outing came against Prairie View A&M, when he recorded 6 points, 8 rebounds (6 of them off the offensive glass), a block, an assist and a steal in 13 impressive minutes.

"Brian Williams is going to be a very good player, but he is at a position where we are fairly deep with Wayne Chism and Duke Crews," Pearl said. "Keeping track of the offensive nuances has been challenging for Bryan. He is doing a great job in the classroom and he has a great future. I don't know how much he is going to be able to contribute if Duke and Wayne continue to play."

Williams, Smith and Tatum will be on display for the home folks when Tennessee (5-1) hosts North Carolina A&T (4-2) Tuesday night at 7:30 in Thompson-Boling Arena.


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