Prince fits in ... everywhere

Tennessee basketball fans are certain to see a lot of J.P. Prince when the Big Orange hosts UNC-Asheville tonight at 7:30. What's not so certain is where they'll be seeing him.

Prince, who sat out the first month of the season after transferring in from Arizona one year ago, saw his first action as a Vol Saturday night against Western Kentucky – splitting his time among shooting guard, small forward and power forward in his UT debut.

"J.P. played all three, and I thought he did really well," head coach Bruce Pearl said.

Seeing game action for the first time in a full year, the 6-8, 200-pounder came out smoking in the first half vs. WKU. Apparently running on adrenalin, he recorded 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 12 super-productive minutes.

"As you might expect, in the first half he was fresh and furious," Pearl recalled. "In the second half, he got a little tired and nicked up, had a little cramp and got a little banged."

Like a Christmas toy whose battery is running low, J.P. Prince seemed to wear down after intermission. He played just seven second-half minutes, contributing zero points, 2 rebounds and zero assists.

"It's been awhile since he's been out there," Pearl noted. "It's one thing to practice. It's another thing to play – play with that adrenalin – and get yourself in some of the positions he got himself in."

Prince, who helped lead Memphis White Station to three state championships in high school, has a tremendous skill set. In addition to superior size, he has good quickness, excellent athleticism, great ball-handling skills and a real knack for the game. That's why Pearl was willing to accept him as a transfer a year ago ... and that's why Pearl was willing to shake up his playing rotation in order to give him 19 minutes of action Saturday night.

"He can elevate and he can run," Pearl said. "He can make plays. He's going to make us a better team; there's no question about it."

If Prince has a weakness, it is that he is not yet where he needs to be as a defender. That's partly because he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder Nov. 8 and is still experiencing some tenderness in it.

"He's got to work harder defensively – cover before the catch, get through screens more physically," Pearl said. "Part of it is that shoulder. If you put a screen on him, he's got to come through the screen with one of two shoulders. If it's not the good one, he's going to be reluctant to get through physically and cover before the catch.

"But, once he gets there, he can guard."

In addition to playing the 2, 3 and 4 positions, Prince can play the 1 or point-guard spot. In fact, that's where he saw action while at Arizona. Clearly, he is one versatile Volunteer capable of bringing a lot to the lineup.

"He makes everybody better," Pearl said. "He's another break-down guy."

Prince's ability to break down a defense provides an added dimension for a Tennessee team that averages an SEC-best 10.2 baskets from 3-point range per game. Individually, Chris Lofton ranks second among league players at 3.2 per game, with JaJuan Smith fourth (2.8) and Jordan Howell 11th (2.1). Prince can hit from beyond the arc but he's more productive maneuvering inside it.

"I think Tyler (Smith), Brian (Williams) and J.P. all give us more two-point basket presence," Pearl said. "They're almost all better from 2 than 3. That's a good thing."

When Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Howell are hitting from outside, Prince should find the middle open for his specialty – penetrating, then either attacking the rim or dishing off to a teammate. That means more touches for Williams and Tyler Smith, who contributed 16 points each vs. Western Kentucky. The result? The kind of offensive balance that should make the Vols difficult to defend in the weeks to come.

"We're making more 3s on average this year than we did last year, so we haven't lost that identity," Pearl said. "We've still got that. But now we've added some more 2-point baskets."

Because Tennessee is scoring more points in the paint than last year, the Vols are shooting more foul shots than they did in 2006-07. UT players stepped to the free-throw line 42 times against Western Kentucky. Unfortunately, the Vols made just 27 of these opportunities.

"I was really pleased to see the way we got to the foul line," Pearl said. "I don't like what we're doing once we get there, but I've got to believe getting there is harder than making 'em.

"They are called 'free' throws for a reason."

WORTH NOTING: UNC-Asheville brings an 8-2 record into tonight's game. Bulldog coach Eddie Biedenbach notched his 151st victory at the school Monday night against South Carolina State, breaking a tie with former UT head man Jerry Green and taking sole possession of second place on the school's all-time wins list.... Like Tennessee, UNCA is a backcourt-oriented team. The Bulldogs' top two scorers are guards Bryan Smithson (17.2 points per game) and K.J. Garland (16.1).... UT's players will stick around after tonight's game to sign autographs.... Tipoff is set for 7:30 with TV coverage provided by SportSouth. This is Tennessee's only home game of December. The Vols make their next appearance at Thompson-Boling Arena vs. Ole Miss in their SEC opener on Jan. 9.


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