Pearl's pups

Season 4 of the Bruce Pearl era will tip off Saturday night against Chattanooga with a much heavier reliance on newcomers than there was in Seasons 1, 2 and 3.

Certainly, Tennessee's basketball program has a solid nucleus returning from last winter. Junior forward Tyler Smith is a potential NBA lottery pick. Junior post Wayne Chism has the tools to be outstanding. Junior wing J.P. Prince is a former Prep All-American who can play just about anywhere on the floor. Junior wing Josh Tabb is a dynamic defender. Sophomore Brian Williams is a 6-10, 270-pounder who made huge strides during his freshman year. Senior Ryan Childress, if he can battle back from injury, is a 6-9 banger who can step outside and shoot the 3.

Still, the 2008-09 Vols will be relying more on rookies than in previous seasons. That's why the newcomers must progress quickly if the Vols are to approach last year's success – a 31-5 record and SEC title.

Bobby Maze, a junior college transfer, must provide quality play as the starting point guard night in and night out. He may be the biggest key to the whole season.

Scotty Hopson, a heralded freshman guard, must provide some outside punch now that the top two scorers of 2007-08 (Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith) are out of eligibility.

Cameron Tatum, a redshirt freshman guard, must fill the same role as Hopson. He, too, needs to be a productive scorer if Tennessee is to approach last year's 81.8 points-per-game average.

Renaldo Woolridge, another freshman guard, might be the team's best 3-point shooter. He'll need to hit from long range when opponents smother Tyler Smith with tightly packed zone defenses.

Emmanuel Negedu, a 6-7 freshman post, is extremely active around the basket. He'll be invaluable on those occasions when Chism moves to power forward and Williams is weary or foul-plagued.

Only one newcomer, 6-10 freshman post Philip Jurick, appears unlikely to make a significant impact this winter. Barring an injury to Chism, Williams or Negedu, Jurick appears almost certain to redshirt this year.

Pearl gave the newcomers loads of playing time in the Vols' two preseason exhibition games, so they could showcase their skills and he could analyze their readiness to contribute.

Hopson and Negedu starred in Exhibition No. 1 vs. Indianapolis. Hopson posted a team-high 14 points. Negedu chipped in 11 points and 6 rebounds (5 of them offensive) in just 12 minutes. Maze (10 points, 7 assists) performed well, also. Tatum was a bit erratic – 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers in 15 minutes. Woolridge had a quiet game – 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists in 19 reserve minutes.

The rookies made visible strides in Exhibition No. 2 vs. Tusculum last Friday night. Woolridge hit 3 of 6 beyond the arc and posted a team-high 15 points. Hopson chipped in 11. Negedu had another strong outing on the backboards (6 rebounds in 17 minutes). Maze nearly hit double-figures in assists (9) and Tatum contributed 10 points with zero turnovers.

"I thought they really gave a much better, more comfortable effort," Pearl said of the newcomers. "They did look more comfortable offensively. I think Cameron was more comfortable. Renaldo was more comfortable ... and Scotty.

"I thought Scotty Hopson defensively did a terrific job early. It's an area he's really worked at."

With Prince, Williams and Childress sidelined by injuries and Tabb sidelined by academic issues, Tennessee had to rely almost exclusively on newcomers vs. Tusculum. They will face a much stiffer test Saturday night against Chattanooga.

"There were two players out there on the floor for us (vs. Tusculum) that played last year – Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism," Pearl noted. "I've been kind of telling you, 'This is a whole new team.'

"We've got a chance to be OK but we've got a long way to go."

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