Return of royalty

On a night when Tennessee's Wayne Chism was wheeled away on a stretcher following a frightful (but relatively harmless) fall, the return of a key teammate was easy to overlook.

But Bruce Pearl noticed. The Vols' head coach was thrilled to see 6-7 junior J.P. Prince back on the floor, even though he clearly was slowed by an ankle sprain that sidelined him for the previous three games.

As Pearl noted following an 89-62 defeat of Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns: "He was 75 percent ready and 50 percent effective tonight, compared to the way he can play, but it was good to have him back."

It was even better to be back, judging from the smile on Prince's face in the post-game interview room.

"It's not back 100 percent yet but I'm just trying to make the most of my minutes, help the team out and come back," he said. "That's all I'm trying to focus on. Coach said I was going to play 10 or 15 minutes, so to make the most of it and play hard."

Prince played 14 solid minutes – hitting 4 of 6 field-goal tries en route to 8 points. He also contributed a rebound, a block and a steal. His ankle seemed to restrict him defensively, though, resulting in three fouls.

"I'm not where I want to be, and he (Pearl) knows that," Prince said. "But I'm going to fight through it. I know the team needs me. We've got a big stretch right here (at Kansas on Saturday and vs. Gonzaga on Jan. 7), so I'm going to fight through it."

Although Prince played reasonably well, he was far from pleased with his performance.

"There was a lot of rust," he said. "I took off two weeks – didn't run, didn't really do much. They didn't want me putting any stress on my ankle, so I kind of took a break. I hadn't been out there with my teammates in awhile, so Coach didn't want to push it too hard."

Even at 6-7 and 205 pounds, Prince is a superior penetrator with an uncanny knack for gliding through traffic to the basket. Obviously, a sore ankle is more problematical for a player who relies so heavily on movement and quickness.

"I didn't have all the athleticism I wanted and the quick burst I usually have," he noted following Monday night's game, "but it was nice to get some minutes out there."

Based on the progress he has made in recent days, Prince expects to be closer to 100 percent when the Vols face Kansas Saturday afternoon at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

"Every day it gets better," he said. "It's just a slow process. It's a nagging injury that I'm going to have to deal with but I'll fight through it and do my best to help the team out."

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