Hoop Vols open tonight

Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Brian Williams will open their third year as teammates tonight when Tennessee hosts North Alabama in the exhibition opener at Thompson-Boling Arena.

That kind of familiarity bodes well for the 2009-10 Vols.

"Oh, yeah. Definitely," Smith said this week. "That grows with time - continuity and chemistry. I think that's going to be good but I also think knowing how hard it is to make it through the SEC is going to help."

Smith led the Vols in scoring (17 points per game) and assists as a junior last season, then postponed a pro career to return for his senior season of college ball. He believes his final year could be a special one.

"I'm very excited," he said. "We ended our season last year very early ... TOO early. I think we're trying to get back into playing shape and really ready to see how this season kicks off for us."

After a few weeks of practice, Smith has formed some strong impressions of the 2009-10 team.

"We're going to press a lot more," he said. "We're obviously going to use our bench a lot more. Guys aren't going to play as many minutes, including myself. I'm not going to play as many minutes, and I think that's really going to help us - using our bench."

One member of the Vol bench who is riding high heading into the exhibition opener is freshman walk-on Skylar McBee. He nailed 4 of 4 shots from 3-point range in Wednesday's final preseason scrimmage. That kind of outside threat will help stop opponents from clogging the lane.

As Smith noted: "It will open up a lot more for me - being able to penetrate and kick - having another shooter out there, along with Scotty (Hopson) and Cam (Tatum)."

On a negative note, the Vols will play this season without two of their key reserves. Josh Tabb left the team to attend to his sick mother and Emmanuel Negedu will sit out the season due to a heart condition.

"Josh is a player we're really going to miss," Smith said. "He pressed real hard, and Coach (Bruce Pearl) loved his defensive intensity. E-Man just brought energy. We're just fortunate to still have him here with us (in a non-playing role), and we're glad he can continue to be on the sideline with us."

The Vols are far from a well-oiled machine as the season approaches. Pearl chewed them out for a lackluster effort in Wednesday's intrasquad scrimmage.

"We didn't play as hard, so Coach came out, and you saw how fired up he was," Smith said. "He's really excited about the season. We are, too.... We were just a little tired because we went four days in a row hard.

"I think everybody's real excited for Friday, even though it's an exhibition game."

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