Most athletic UT squad ever?

Even the best shooters have nights when they're lousy shooters. But the best athletes never have nights where they're lousy athletes. You can't always count on shots to fall but you can always count on athleticism.

I mention this because the 2008-09 Tennessee basketball team is not going to be blessed with great shooters ... but it is going to be blessed with more great athletes than at any time since I began watching the Vols play back in the early 1960s.

Does that mean this year's squad will be better than last year's? No. It simply means it will be different than last year's. After watching Tennessee's newcomers perform in the Rocky Top summer league last week, I have no doubt that the Vols will be the most athletic team on the floor in just about every game they play in 2008-09.

Here's why:

Wayne Chism, simply put, is the most athletically gifted big man in Tennessee hoops history. He runs the floor exceptionally well for a 6-9, 245-pounder, jumps well and can even step outside and hit the 3-pointer.

Brian Williams is much more toned and agile than he was as a freshman last winter. After dropping nearly 100 pounds over the past three years, the 6-10, 275-pounder is still learning to harness his new physique. When that lesson is complete, he could make All-SEC and make Chism a power forward.

Competing with Chism and Williams for playing time on the inside will be a couple of bangers who offset in toughness what they may lack athletically – 6-9, 245-pound senior Ryan Childress and 6-11, 255-pound freshman Philip Jurick.

In terms of pure athletic talent, Tyler Smith may rank right up there at the Bernard King level. Smith stuck around for another year of college in hopes of raising his stock with NBA scouts. After scoring 32 and 29 points in his first two summer league outings last week, the 6-7, 220-pound junior appears on track to be a potential lottery pick for the 2009 NBA Draft.

A lot of folks were surprised that Cameron Tatum produced 39 and 42 points in two summer league games last week. Not me. After seeing the 6-6, 200-pounder score with stunning ease in intra-squad scrimmages last fall, I knew his explosive quickness and leaping ability could make him an electrifying offensive force. Fans are going to love watching this guy.

I must admit I WAS surprised by the offensive abilities exhibited by newcomers Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze. Hopson, a 6-6 High School All-American from Hopkinsville, Ky., scored 25 and 33 points in his first two summer league games. He's no Chris Lofton as a shooter but his level of athleticism is amazing. Maze, a super-quick 6-2 point guard from the junior college ranks, scored just 14 points in his Rocky Top League debut but came back two nights later to pump in 47. Yeah ... 47.

Maze's chief competition for the point-guard job this winter may come from fellow newcomer Daniel West. The 6-1 signee from Saginaw, Mich., struggled to finish in his summer league debut, scoring just six points. He bounced back with 15 in his next outing, however. He isn't the scoring threat Maze is but West has the quickness and ball-handling skills to break down a defense and fill a traditional pass-first type of point-guard role.

Josh Tabb, though best known for his defensive prowess, also exhibited some offensive skills last week, scoring 26 and 28 points in his two summer league outings. The 6-4 junior wing isn't quite as flashy as Tatum and Hopson but he's a quality athlete who does the little things that help a team win.

The other wing candidates, 6-8 junior J.P. Prince and 6-8 freshman Renaldo Woolridge, have not played in the summer league. Prince is recovering from shoulder surgery and Woolridge is not enrolling until the second session of summer school. The fact these guys can play the wing at 6-8 says all you need to know about their athleticism.

Another player planning to enroll for the second session of summer school is Emmanuel Negedu, a 6-6, 230-pound power forward rated a top-100 prospect nationally. I haven't seen him play but I hear the kid is off the charts athletically.

Translation: He should fit right in.


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