Mission impossible?

You know you've done something special when you render former Tennessee basketball star Ron Slay speechless.

Clearly, current Vol Tyler Smith did something special Monday night in the Rocky Top summer league.

He produced 32 points in guiding HT Group to a 123-76 blowout of Slay's News-Sentinel team. He scored on rim-rattling dunks, slashing drives and the occasional 3-pointer. He caught one lob with his back to the basket, spun 180 degrees in mid-air and slammed home an emphatic dunk all in one motion. He caught another lob, then flipped the ball over his shoulder and off the backboard into the hands of a teammate for a dunk.

Everything Smith did Monday night was impressive but most impressive was how ridiculously effortless he made it appear. The 6-7, 220-pound junior looked like a 20-year-old man playing against 10-year-old boys. Every few minutes he'd simply take over the game for three or four possessions – scoring at will, no matter who was guarding him ... including the 6-7, 230-pound Slay.

Slay, who scored most of his 28 points from outside, found the basket on three consecutive possessions in one first-half spurt while Smith was on the bench. Smith promptly re-entered the lineup, covered Slay like a blanket and forced a turnover.

So, what did Slay, the 2002 SEC Player of the Year, think of Smith's performance?

Slay, who is NEVER, EVER at a loss for words, paused, started to speak, then paused again. Finally, he shrugged.

"Tyler is Tyler, man," the former Vol said, clearly grasping for words. "His name says enough."

Realizing he had not answered the question, Slay grinned, paused one final time, then finally found some suitable words.

"He DEFINITELY put on a show," Slay said, shaking his head. "I think he's jumping a lot better this year. Last year he was just running and jumping like an athlete. This year he's controlling his jumping and controlling his moves, and he's doing a lot better with it."

Smith, who strongly considered jumping to the NBA before electing to return for his junior season, agreed with Slay's assessment.

"I am jumping better," he conceded. "My strength coach has got me in there doing a lot of hard work. I'm training like I never trained before, as far as going hard and being committed to Tennessee basketball."

After transferring in from Iowa, Smith led the 2007-08 Vols in rebounds (6.8 per game), assists (121) and field-goal percentage (54.1). He averaged 13.7 points per game and shot a surprising 38.9 percent from 3-point range.

There seemed to be scant room for improvement, yet Smith appears to have made significant progress during the offseason.

"I'm trying," he said. "I'm trying."

He's succeeding. He's succeeding.

As the first player picked in the Rocky Top draft, Smith knew a lot would be expected of him. He accepted the pressure in his typically low-key manner.

"My first sighting was pretty high, as far as expectations," he said. "A lot of people knew what I could do, so I was just trying to come out and show that I've been working on a lot more things."

Smith showed he could do a lot of things Monday night ... not the least of which was leaving Ron Slay at a loss for words.


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