What if Haislip had stayed?

Tennessee's basketball team is 14-6 overall and 6-3 in SEC play. The Vols have won five games in a row. They are playing well enough that they have a legitimate shot against fourth-ranked Florida Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. If they can win their remaining home games and prevail at South Carolina and Vanderbilt (losing at No. 3 Kentucky), the Vols will finish the regular season with a 20-7 record.

As well as things are going, though, you wonder: How much better would the Vols be if Marcus Haislip had elected to return for his senior season instead of opting for the NBA draft?

Haislip was a lottery pick (No. 13) by the Milwaukee Bucks last June but is spending most of his rookie year watching from the bench as head coach George Karl relies on veteran players. Haislip returned to Knoxville for last Saturday's game with Georgia, spending some time with Vol head man Buzz Peterson.

''I said, 'Slip, you'd have gotten a lot more minutes here than you're getting for George Karl,' '' Peterson recalled, laughing as he added: '' 'Of course, I know your pocket's a little bit heavier now.' ''

Had the 6-foot-10 Haislip returned for his final season of collegiate eligibility, he would've combined with 6-foot-8 Ron Slay (who leads the SEC in scoring at 21 points per game) to give Tennessee one of the NCAA's premier frontlines.

''It would've been something else with those two in there,'' Peterson said. ''You might have to go with Haislip, Slay and (6-foot-10 Brandon) Crump as your frontline. Those three would've been something else.''

While his pro career isn't panning out the way he hoped, Haislip is trying to remain upbeat. So is Peterson.

''Marcus told me he would love to have the opportunity to play more, but when you're a lottery pick, it's hard to say no,'' the Vol coach said. ''Marcus made the right decision but we'd love to have him.''

Who knows? With Haislip in the lineup, UT's record might be 18-2, instead of 14-6.

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