As Pearl approaches his fourth year running the Big Orange program, however, there is no clearcut leader. In addition to Lofton, Smith and Howell, the Vols said goodbye to two experienced juniors who left the program under mysterious circumstances – Duke Crews and Ramar Smith. Moreover, the team's lone senior, Ryan Childress, is unlikely to get significant playing time. So, where will the leadership come from in 2008-09?
He's a quality player.
He's a quality person.
He's got the respect of his coaches and teammates.
He's a team-oriented guy, having recently postponed his NBA career to spend another year at Tennessee.
He's a hard worker who is vocal enough to speak up when necessary.
Questioned on an SEC teleconference earlier today, Pearl conceded that Smith is the player most likely to fill the leadership void created by the departures of Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell.
"I think Tyler is the best candidate we have to fill the role of being our leader," the Vol coach said. "He made a very difficult decision to come back – one he gave a great deal of thought."
Underclassmen declared for the NBA Draft in such numbers this year that it was truly laughable. Essentially, it became something of a status symbol: If you've got game, you'd better declare. You can always withdraw your name later.
Many of the underclassmen who declared did, in fact, pull their names prior to the draft, suggesting their actions were done mostly for show. Tyler Smith does nothing for show.
"It seemed to be very fashionable to throw your name into the draft," Pearl said. "Tyler did something that was NOT fashionable – throw himself into the weight room and prepare himself to come back for another year of college."