The Missing Piece?

Defeat has a way of amplifying shortcomings, as gaining tactical advantage, by definition, is essentially exploiting your opponent's weaknesses while playing to your team's strengths.

Tennessee's loss to Vanderbilt Tuesday exposed the Vols need for a midrange scorer with size and the ability to run the court. On defense the Dores pressured the perimeter and kept their big men near the basket to take away the drive. The Vols didn't finish at the rim well and the perimeter game, outside of Lofton, struggled.

There were opportunities in the soft middle and on the baseline but the Vols couldn't counter with the 10- to 15-foot jump shots needed to take advantage. Certainly Pearl could see the area that could be attacked even from the other end of the court, and would he would have made the adjustment if he had the personnel piece to play.

Unfortunately, there aren't any UT forwards that have displayed the consistency to counter that contingency. Duke Crews, while strong and athletic, is limited in his range and seems to be challenged by any shot that is not a dunk. Wayne Chism can drain the occasional trey and is good in transition but is as ineffective from 15 feet as he is from the free throw line. Tyler Smith can score with his back to the basket, but isn't nearly as adept at squaring up for the intermediate J. Brian Williams is a promising work in progress while J.P. Prince is a slash-and-burn specialist who lacks the touch to be a midrange scoring threat.

The problem is further compounded by Ramar Smith's reluctance to pull up on the drive to take the jumper, while defenses are quick to react to JaJuan Smith or Chris Lofton anytime they have the ball in front court.

At the conclusion of this season Tennessee will lose its senior shooting guards and no doubt defenses will respond differently without comparable long -ange replacements. However that will only increase the need for alternative scoring sources. Otherwise opponents will be able to pack everything inside and force UT to beat them from the perimeter.

Obviously that is going to require improvement on the part of Tennessee's returning players along with some help from its signing class. Enter Renaldo Woolridge, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound small forward out of North Hollywood, Calif., who attends Harvard-Westlake High School and is rated one of the top 100 prospects in the nation by Scout.com. He is also a late-bloomer and rapid-riser with NBA genetics.

Whether he continues to grow into a power forward as his father Orlando Woolridge played, or remains a big, small forward he should retain his jump-shot which is sometimes flat, like former Vol forward Reggie Johnson's line drive J, remains a matter of debate.

"I think they see him as a scoring swingman in their system," said Renaldo's AAU coach Dino Trigonis. "He likes the fact they run up and down and he's very good in transition; he's going to get better."

As a junior Renaldo averaged 19.2 points per game and eight rebounds per game, hitting 49 percent of his field goals (213-of-435) including 36 three-point field goals. He scored a career high 34 points vs. Loyola. He scored 28 points and pulled down 16 rebounds against Rio Mesa. He connected on three triples in wins over Sacred Heart Cathedral, Ocean View and Moorpark. It's notable that he committed only 42 personal fouls in 28 regular season games. He added 36 assists, 31 steals and 27 blocked shots.

As a senior he led the Wolverines to a 21-8 record and an 11-3 league mark, scoring a team-high 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. He dished out a total of 70 assists and hit 56 goals from beyond the golden arc.

In a 61-59 victory over Granada Hills to open the season he scored 24 points and had 14 rebounds. He had 32 points and 14 boards to lead his squad to a Jan. 2 win over Verbum Dei. He best performance may have come against St. Francis on Feb. 4 when he had 21 points and 20 rebounds. His most impressive performance to date may have come in an 80-76 setback against Loyola on Feb. 1 when he had 29 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. He also hit a pair of 3s and made 9-of-12 free throws.

Most encouraging for Tennessee fans is the fact he improved his foul shooting to 70 percent from 63 percent as a junior and lifted his 3-point field goal percentage from 26 percent to 32 percent. He should continue to improve his shot selection as he sees less defensive attention at the collegiate level.

The continued evolution of Renaldo Woolridge could really improve the resolution of Tennessee's 2008-2009 hardwood campaign.


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