Tennessee Pride

The University of Tennessee's basketball history is filled with great players from other states.

Ernie Grunfeld, Bernard King and Howard Wood hailed from New York. Reggie Johnson, Dale Ellis and Dyron Nix were native Georgians. Billy Hann, Tom Boerwinkle and Len Kosmalski were transplanted Ohioans. Don Johnson grew up in Illinois and Tony White in North Carolina. Gene Tormohlen and Mike Edwards arrived from Indiana. Danny Schultz, Allan Houston and Chris Lofton came down from Kentucky.

The backbone of the 2008-09 Vol squad, however, is homegrown. Tyler Smith is from Pulaski, Wayne Chism from Bolivar, J.P. Prince from Memphis. This trio of juniors was the key to victory Tuesday night against Vanderbilt. Chism led with 20 points. Smith added 18 and Prince 16. That development clearly pleased UT head coach Bruce Pearl.

"I like guys with that 'Tennessee' across their chest," the coach said earlier today. "Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince ... who played the best for us last night? Those three guys right there. They have Tennessee across their chest."

Pearl also started three in-staters last season – Tyler Smith, Chism and JaJuan Smith (Cleveland). The coach believes representing their home-state university means a little extra for native Tennesseans.

"That doesn't mean you can't come from someplace else and be a Vol, fall in love with it," Pearl said. "That doesn't mean that some of our (out-of-state) guys aren't that way. But it (being homegrown) does make a difference.

"I just hope that we can continue to get a really good crop of local players coming out."

Although the Big Orange historically has relied heavily on out-of-state talent, there have been stretches when Tennessee fielded teams with a homegrown flavor.

In the mid- to late-1960s, for instance, Ray Mears' best players included A.W. Davis (Rutledge), Ron Widby (Knoxville) and Bill Justus (Knoxville).

Although the '70s were dominated by Grunfeld and King, there were some notable in-state products such as Jimmy England (Knoxville), Mike Jackson (Nashville) and Johnny Darden (Springfield).

The 1980s saw such quality homegrown talents as Gary Carter (Johnson City), Michael Brooks (Memphis), Fred Jenkins (Columbia), Rob Jones (Knoxville) and Doug Roth (Knoxville).

Kevin O'Neill's 1995-96 Vol squad occasionally featured an all-Tennessee lineup of Steve Hamer (Millington), Brandon Wharton (Nashville), Damon Johnson (Johnson City), Shane Williams (Johnson City) and Aaron Green (Sweetwater).

The homegrown talent took an upward turn in the late 1990s. As a result, coach Jerry Green posted four 20-win seasons with the likes of Vincent Yarbrough (Cleveland), Tony Harris (Memphis), Ron Slay (Nashville), C.J. Black (Chattanooga) and Marcus Haislip (Lewisburg).

The in-state talent probably peaked in the mid-2000s. In addition to Chism and Tyler Smith, the homegrown products during that stretch included two superstars who turned pro after just one college season – Nashville's Brandan Wright and Memphis' Thaddeus Young – along with Brownsville's Jarvis Varnado, who has become a shot-blocking machine at Mississippi State.

Pearl tried hard but couldn't couldn't convince Wright, Young or Varnado to wear Orange. Still, Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince provide a good nucleus, as they showed versus Vandy.

As Pearl noted: "I was really proud of my Tennessee kids for stepping up."

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