Leadership void

In his first year as Tennessee's head basketball coach, Bruce Pearl benefited from the senior leadership of C.J. Watson, a four-year starter at point guard.

In his second year as UT's head man, Pearl benefited from the senior leadership of Dane Bradshaw, who wound up being voted captain of Sports Illustrated's All-Glue Team.

In his third year overseeing the Vols, Pearl benefited from the senior leadership of three veteran guards – Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell.

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?

The odds-on favorite is junior Tyler Smith. Although he has spent just one year in the program, the 6-7 Iowa transfer has all of the attributes needed to be a leader.

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."

Other candidates to fill leadership roles for the 2008-09 Vols are junior wings J.P. Prince and Josh Tabb, along with junior college transfer Bobby Maze, who projects to be the starting point guard.

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