One 'sneaky' Vol

One Tennessee basketball player is kind of like a termite. You don't realize how much damage he's doing until he's finished.

That would be J.P. Prince. The lanky senior never seems to have a big game until you check the box score. Then you see that he contributed a lot more than you realized.

Wednesday's showdown with Georgia was a prime example. Prince finished with 15 points - all in the second half - 7 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals as the Vols rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to post a 69-60 victory. In the game before he had 9 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and a block vs. Kentucky. In the game before that he had 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal vs. Vanderbilt. Clearly, the guy can fill a stat sheet.

"That's what J.P. does," teammate Wayne Chism said. "J.P. was sleepy in the first half and everybody (on Georgia's team) was saying, 'OK, we can sag off J.P. for a while.' But if you forget about J.P. the second half J.P. can sneak up on you and get a lot of points, steals, rebounds.

"That's what type of player J.P. is. He's a sneaky player."

Sneaky and streaky, apparently. In the first half of Wednesday's game Prince was so inactive that he might as well have taken a seat in the stands. After a halftime butt-chewing from his coach, however, he became a lot more assertive.

"I took issue with J.P. at halftime," Bruce Pearl said. "He played 16 minutes, missed one shot and two free throws. I took issue with my senior. He was not pleased with how things were going but he was not focusing on himself. If J.P. played better the first half, we're better.

"I really want to put it (burden of carrying the team) on these seniors. This is it for them. This is their stretch run."

One of those seniors, point guard Bobby Maze, thought Pearl's halftime chat with Prince was crucial.

"Coach was just telling him that we was down some guys, so you (Prince) have to be more aggressive, hunt your shot more," Maze recalled. "He responded well. J.P. easily could've put his head down or got mad at himself but he came out and played tremendously. I'm glad he responded so well because we couldn't have won the game without his second-half play."

Part of Prince's first-half doldrums could be traced to the fact he was playing out of position. A natural small forward, the 6-8, 205-pounder started Wednesday's game at power forward. Being purely a finesse player, he proved to be a poor fit in the 4 spot. Still, Pearl defended the decision to try him there.

"It was a no-brainer," the coach said. "We didn't start very well for about four games, so what if we don't start well again? It's not because I changed the lineup. It was an easy decision to try to make the change."

In retrospect, however, Pearl concedes that Prince is no power forward.

"I was hoping we'd start better," he said, "but I wasn't happy with J.P. at the 4, even going in."

Apparently, playing the 4 is one of the few things Prince cannot do. He can drive, he can dunk, he can rebound, he can block shots, he can accumulate assists and steals. He can even hit the 3-pointer this year (31.6 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2008-09).

"He's a tremendous basketball player but he's unselfish," Maze said. "If he went somewhere else - to one of the lower-rated teams in the league - he could be a star. That's what people fail to realize. J.P. could go to some other teams in the SEC and average 25 points a game. He has that ability.

"Guys don't see it because we have so many good players. But if he played 35 minutes a game and was the primary player, he could be a star. He can slash, he can pass, he can rebound. He's long, he's athletic. He can do so many things."

Many of those things go unnoticed, though, because he does them quietly, like a termite. He's sneaky that way.

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