Tyler's optimistic

Minus five players who combined for 108 starts and 47 points per game last season, the Tennessee Vols could be facing a rebuilding year in 2008-09. Or not.

"It's going to be tough replacing those guys, but we've got all the talent in the world," 6-7 junior forward Tyler Smith says. "I think we can go deeper than last year.

"I think we can win the SEC. I think we can make it to the Final Four – finally get past the Sweet 16."

Smith bases this optimism on a dynamic signing class Bruce Pearl brought in that consists of freshmen Scotty Hopson, Renaldo Woolridge, Daniel West, Emmanuel Negedu and Philip Jurick, along with junior college transfer Bobby Maze.

"Coach has done a great job recruiting," Smith says. "Without that recruiting class, I don't think we would've been picked to win the SEC because we lost so many great guys. The way Coach recruits and the way he knows what he needs ... he did a good job with that."

Smith knows all about Pearl's magnetic personality. After opening his career at the University of Iowa, the Pulaski native transferred to UT last March. He is not surprised that the new signing class is filled with quality prospects.

"As long as Mr. Pearl is the coach, I think that's going to continue," Smith notes. "A lot of guys that don't even play for Tennessee say they like Coach Pearl. They see how energetic he is on the sideline and a lot of people want to play for him.

In addition to his knack for attracting players, Pearl has a knack for motivating players. That has been evident as the Vols prepare for Monday night's exhibition opener against Indianapolis.

"Guys want to work hard for Coach Pearl," Smith says. "We get up a lot of mornings at 6 o'clock. A lot of guys could complain, but they don't. It just shows that they're here to work and learn from the older guys."

Coming off a 31-5 season that included an SEC title and a brief stint as the top-ranked team in America, the 2008-09 Vols will be hard-pressed to match last winter's achievements. Still, Smith is taking steps to see that they do.

"I just want to lead by example because I'm not really much of a talker," he concedes. "I'm going to try and do it off the court more than on the court because off the court is where these guys are young. That's what they need is off the court (leadership) because on the court they've got a lot of talent and Coach does a great job coaching and teaching."

As a potential lottery pick and instant millionaire, Smith is almost certain to turn pro following his junior year. Thus, he is driven to make his final college season a special one.

"I'm not going to be named the SEC preseason player of the year and then come out here and be the second- or third-best worker on the team," he says. "I'm going to be the guy who's work hard and in the gym even when the coaches are not here."

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