Hoop Vols 'meaner'

Tennessee's basketball team may not be better in 2010-11 than it was in 2009-10 but the Vols will be meaner.

At least, that's the opinion of junior wing Cameron Tatum. He believes the gut-wrenching one-point loss Tennessee suffered vs. Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight last March continues to haunt - and motivate - the Big Orange.

"I think that makes us a meaner team," he said. "I think we'll be more feared. Being that close (to the Final Four) kind of makes you anxious. Watching that tape all over again through the summer makes you mad. Every time we watch that tape together we go in the gym and work hard just from watching that game. I think it makes us hungry."

Tennessee may have the hunger to reach another Elite Eight but not the horses. Minus Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince, Bobby Maze and Tyler Smith from the 2009-10 team, the Vols have a lot of quality talent to replace. Still, the returnees are supremely confident.

"Getting to the Elite Eight was a step forward to what we want to do," senior post Brian Williams said. "Obviously, the next step is the Final Four. Everybody's doubting us this year but I think Tennessee right now is the best it's ever been. We're all confident as a team that we can get back there."

Most observers believe the Big Orange will take a step backward this season. The Vols beg to differ.

"No. You can tell from the way Scotty (Hopson) is playing out there," Tatum said during a break in Rocky Top Summer League action. "He's been playing tremendous. Melvin (Goins) has been playing tremendous. Big Baby (Williams) is playing where he was at the end of last year; he's playing tremendous, too.

"I think everybody's hungry. Everybody understands where we went to, and we know what it takes. Everybody's giving 110 percent in the weight room - not missing a rep, not missing anything. Everybody's going hard, making sure they're on time and things like that."

Hopson concedes that the Vols have lost some exceptional players since March but believes there's enough talent remaining to launch another deep NCAA Tournament run in 2010-11.

"I think the outlook is great," he said. "J.P. and Wayne and Bobby have left but the pieces to the puzzle are still here. This team still has good chemistry, still has a lot of good players - just like before - and we've got a good incoming class. We're going to be fine."

Sophomore forward Kenny Hall thinks so, too, noting that the Vols' goals are just as high as ever.

"We don't want no less than what we did last year," he said.

Working in the Vols' favor is the fact they no longer face the glass ceiling of never having advanced beyond the NCAA Sweet 16. Thanks to last year's squad, the 2010-11 team won't have to deal with that barrier.

"That helps a lot, man," Hopson said. "The experience of playing Michigan State and teams like that will help us. Now we know how to play going into that situation."

Knowing how to play in the Elite Eight is one thing. Winning enough games to actually get there is another matter entirely. Still, the Vols are confident they can go as far in 2010-11 as they did in 2009-10.

"I think we understand where we need to be," Tatum said. "We know everybody's doubting us, and we want to prove them wrong - like we did last year."

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