And it's no coincidence that a mere three hours after Pearl made it clear he wasn't interested in any job but the Tennessee job, Scotty Hopson made it official that he wasn't interested in signing with any school but UT. The concurrence of these monumental developments eases the pain of last week's Sweet 16 defeat to Louisville and pushes the Volunteers 2008 recruiting class into top five territory.
The final piece of the personnel puzzle is Tyler Smith, who is weighing his NBA options after an outstanding sophomore season in which he was UT's best overall player. If he projects to the upper half of the first round, it would be prudent to make the jump. If however he is more likely to fall into the bottom half of the first round or early in the second round it would be more profitable to return for another season and refine his game with the aim of becoming a lottery choice in 2009.
Remember that Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who dominated the SEC for LSU before opting for a pro career after his junior season, wasn't taken until the middle of the second round in the 2007 NBA Draft. In other words there is an air of unpredictability that makes the early entry risky business. Tyler would project as a small forward in the NBA and might need to sharpen his perimeter game and ball handling skills. He led the Vols in assists this season with 122, but he also led them in turnovers with 79. Those numbers are nearly identical to point guard Ramar Smith, who had 116 assists vs. 77 turnovers.
While there is room for improvement in the Pulaski native's game it's clear UT couldn't have accomplished what it did this season without him. No doubt Vol fans would love to have him back, but they also want what's best for Tyler who no doubt deserves it. If he doesn't return that means Tennessee will have a solid representative in the NBA, which has intrinsic value on the recruiting trail, so it's a win-win. However If he does return the Vols will finally have the complement of players to fully effectuate Pearls' push-and-press attack along with the depth to peg the fatigue meter.
Whether Tyler stays or goes there will be an experience gap for the Vols to close with three seniors and former starters gone. That alone could prevent UT will from compiling as many wins, but the team it sends to the NCAA should be stronger than the one that was eliminated in the third round last week.
With Hopson bringing size and athleticism to the two spot the half court game should be better and the defense will be more stifling. Meanwhile Ramar will step up his game or be replaced by true freshman Daniel West, who might just be the steal of the recruiting season.
J.P. Prince will get a chance to lockdown the small forward role with freshman Rolando Woolridge in a reserve role. Cameron Tatum could provide minutes at both the wing and shooting guard. Plus it wouldn't be surprising to see situations where Tyler could play the wing with Wayne Chism at the four spot and Duke Crews on the post. Brian Williams should be improved and Phillip Jurick adds size and strength in the low post. That's the type of big lineup Pearl has never had the luxury of deploying on The Hill.
Pearl's announcement he's returning to Tennessee put a halt to the rumor mills that were grinding out reports of his imminent departure. Interesting that declaration came three years and three days from the date Pearl was hired to change UT's basketball fortunes.
It appears the dream weaver has found his dream job after all, and after decades of testing their faith in the hardwood wilderness Big Orange fans have become true believers.