Prince ready to ascend?

You don't have to be a scoring king to start for the 2008-09 Tennessee Basketball Vols, but being a Prince wouldn't hurt.

With Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith out of eligibility, a lot of fans believe high-scoring newcomers Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum will assume the wing spots this year. After all, Hopson was rated a top-10 prospect last year after averaging 24.3 points per game for University Heights Academy of Hopkinsville, Ky. Tatum redshirted in 2007-08 due to injury but lit up the Rocky Top Summer League last June with an eye-popping array of slashing moves.

Somewhat overlooked in the wing race – except by Vol head coach Bruce Pearl – is returnee J.P. Prince. The 6-8 transfer from Arizona isn't as flashy as Hopson or Tatum but he has a year's experience playing in UT's system against SEC competition, and that counts for a lot.

"J.P. Prince has had a terrific fall," Pearl said. "He is a very talented player that is now working harder and is more productive. What makes J.P. so good is that he's a complete player. He can defend and he can score. He's multiple. He's got a high basketball IQ. J.P. is a very, very good basketball player."

Prince proved as much last winter, producing 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals as the visiting Vols upset top-ranked Memphis. Being a Memphis native made the performance especially sweet for Prince, who also had a 12-point outing vs. Gonzaga last season.

Although he started Tennessee's last two games of 2007-08 at the point, Prince appears more likely to find a home on the wing now that the absence of Lofton and Smith leaves a couple of gaping holes at those spots.

"Is he looking better now than he did last year? Yeah. But JaJuan and Chris aren't out there, so J.P. needs to be looking better," Pearl noted. "I really like his progress and I trust him. We've already seen J.P. step up and make plays."

Now that Lofton and Smith are no longer around to make plays, someone on the Vol roster is going to have to fill the scoring void. Pearl believes Prince and Josh Tabb, another unsung junior, are quite capable of handling that assignment.

"Whose responsibility is it to replace Chris and JaJuan? You might look at the new guys as being your obvious choices," Pearl said. "Scotty Hopson ... we're very excited about his talent and his ability and how much he's going to improve. We're excited about Cameron getting a chance to play once he gets back to being healthy. We're confident in a few weeks Cameron will be able to get back on the court and pick up where he left off this summer.

"But it's really going to be Josh Tabb and J.P. Prince – the guys that return – that have to handle that."


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