Preparation for the pros

He's a power forward in college who must learn to play small forward in the pros. He's in a summer league which affords him a golden opportunity to work on making that transition.

Given the above, you'd figure Tennessee's Tyler Smith would use the Pilot Rocky Top League primarily to develop his perimeter skills. Working toward his NBA future isn't his No. 1 objective, however.

"It allows me to do that, but the main thing is having fun," Smith said after putting up 35 points for Richardson Construction Monday night in a 120-108 loss to The News-Sentinel. "I can work on my game in the gym by myself. It helps out here to play at game speed but I'm just looking to have fun and be competitive."

Smith can score inside. He can rebound. He can run the floor and he can break down a defense. He proved as much by averaging 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, while leading the Vols in assists with 114. The question is whether his ball-handling and outside shooting are good enough to enable him to play on the perimeter in the NBA.

Smith made just 29.2 percent of his 3-point attempts (28 of 96) for the Vols last season and has been erratic in Rocky Top League play, shooting two air balls from beyond the arc Monday night. Still, he insists that the RTL is about more than fine-tuning his game for the pros.

"We're just out here having fun, really," he said. "I'm out here getting in better condition, just trying to get a sweat in. You normally don't get a lot of pickup games in the summer time, so this is something that helps you work on your game and improve some little things before the season comes around. At the same time, it's all fun out here."

Although the stakes aren't nearly as high in summer league games as in college games, Smith still takes each outing quite seriously. He has shown a knack for taking over in the late stages of close contests. Clearly, his competitive spirit shows up at crunch time.

"It does," he said. "You try to make plays. Fans come out even for summer league, so when it's close at game time it's time to get serious in any kind of situation."

Many observers assumed Smith would turn pro this summer rather than return to UT for his senior year. One reason he didn't is that he thinks the Vols could be headed for a banner season in 2009-10.

"I think the players being a year older is going to help," he said. "I think our chemistry grew last year as we grew. That's something that's going to continue to grow. Hopefully, it'll be ready when the season comes."

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