'Real' Tyler stands up

There was a popular TV game show a few years back called "To Tell The Truth" that featured a person with an interesting story and two imposters pretending to be him/her.

Each segment ended with the host saying, "Would the REAL Xxxx Xxxxx please stand up?" To prolong the suspense, each of the three would start to rise out of his/her seat. Finally, the actual person would stand, solving the mystery.

That's pretty similar to the situation with Tennessee basketball player Tyler Smith this season. After serving as his own imposter in Games 1 through 7, he finally stood up Friday in Game 8 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – recording 22 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists. It was the Tyler Smith Vol coaches and fans envisioned ever since he transferred to UT from Iowa, where he was a third-team All-Big Ten selection as a true freshman last winter.

"I introduced myself to Tyler tonight," Tennessee's head coach quipped after Friday's game. "I said, 'Tyler ... Bruce Pearl. It's nice for you to finally show up at Thompson-Boling Arena.'"

Smith showed flashes in the earlier games, of course. He produced 17 points and 12 rebounds in Game 7 vs. North Carolina A&T. He had 15 points in Game 2 (Arkansas-Monticello) and Game 3 (Prairie View A&M). He posted 8 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 6 vs. Texas.

Friday night, though, the 6-7, 215-pounder finally put it all together. For the first time all season the REAL Tyler Smith stood up.

"He's a stocking-stuffer," Pearl said on Friday's post-game show. "He will stuff a stat sheet with his points and his rebounds."

Smith's versatility has been a key component in Tennessee's 7-1 start. He leads the team in field-goal percentage (61.7), assists (29) and 3-point percentage (44.4). He ranks second in rebounding (5.1 per game) and steals (16). He's third in scoring average (13.4 points per game).

"The thing I like is his efficiency," Pearl said.

One thing that has made Smith more efficient is the fact opposing defenses can't double-team him. If they do, Chris Lofton and/or JaJuan Smith will burn them.

"He shot 39 percent at Iowa last year, and he had to do a lot," Pearl said. "He had to force the issue a little bit. When Chris Lofton is on your wing, his man's not coming off. That means you've got a lot of one-on-one (opportunities)."

Tyler Smith could average 20 points per game for the Vols if he weren't such a team-oriented player. He understands that helping his teammates score is just as important as scoring himself.

"Tyler's a tough cover one-on-one," Pearl said. "He's an unselfish player, so he's spoon-feeding guys and getting other guys open shots. It's really good to get Tyler going."

Vol teammate Jordan Howell adds a hearty amen to that. The senior guard recognizes that Smith could be the difference between a Sweet 16 team and a Final Four team.

"We got a a great player in Tyler Smith," Howell said. "He's making everybody better when he's on the floor. He's almost like a (Dane) Bradshaw last year, getting in the lane and finding guys with passes."

What may be most amazing about Smith is that Tennessee is the fourth system he's played in during the past four years. He was at Pulaski's Giles County High School in 2004-05, Hargrave Military Academy in 2005-06, Iowa in 2006-07 and now Tennessee in 2007-08.

"Four offenses ... four coaches," Pearl noted. "But I think he's settling in."

Apparently so. The real Tyler Smith is standing up at last.

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