What Elite Eight?

It took 18 coaches 101 seasons to get Tennessee's basketball program to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. It took one of those coaches less than five months to forget it.

When asked this week if he'll mention last March's Elite Eight appearance to his 2010-11 team, head coach Bruce Pearl flashed a quizzical look and replied: "What Elite Eight?"

The point was made. Pearl wants his team focusing on the future, not living in the past. It's time to stop celebrating an unprecedented NCAA Tournament run and start celebrating the start of a new challenge.

"This is a whole new team," Pearl said. "Thirty-eight percent of our roster is brand spanking new. It's OK for these guys to hear about it (Elite Eight) a little bit but I think they're already tired of hearing about it in the sense that a lot of them weren't around for it and most of them didn't start in St. Louis. I think they're very anxious to create their own mark."

Only two players who started Tennessee's 70-69 Elite Eight loss to Michigan State are still around - center Brian Williams and shooting guard Scotty Hopson. The other three starters - Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze - are gone.

Even with Chism, Prince and Maze missing, Tennessee's 2010-11 roster features a good mix of seniors (Williams, Melvin Goins, John Fields, Josh Bone, Steven Pearl), juniors (Hopson, Cameron Tatum, Renaldo Woolridge), sophomores (Kenny Hall, Skylar McBee, Jeronne Maymon) and freshmen (Tobias Harris, Jordan McRae, Trae Golden). That's a lot of able bodies right there.

"We finally have 13 scholarship guys," Pearl said. "This is as deep a roster as I've had, particularly on the front line. There were times when we only had one center, maybe two. This year we have three guys (Williams, Fields, Hall) that legitimately can play the position, and they all bring some different dimensions."

An even deeper position is power forward, where the candidates include Hall, Pearl, Woolridge, Maymon and Harris, the No. 1 rated power forward prospect in America last winter.

"I think there's going to be some tremendous competition," Pearl said. "Now, will cream rise to the top? When you've got some great players, they do. We're going to find out who the great players are. That's what this preseason is all about."

As returning starters, Williams and Hopson appear locks to win first-team jobs. Goins, the No. 2 point guard last year, should step into the No. 1 role now that Maze is gone. Harris, because of his high school accolades, is being projected to start.

All of the above is expected to happen. But Pearl, whose team overcame the midseason loss of star player Tyler Smith to makes its Elite Eight run in 2010, knows he must expect the unexpected.

"I try not to go into the preseason with too many preconceived notions," the coach said. "I know Melvin Goins is a senior. I know Scotty Hopson is returning as one of our more talented players. I know how heralded Tobias Harris was coming out of high school.

"But I think one of my strengths - one of the things I've done with great consistency from year to year - is (view each season as) a whole new ball game. It's all about showing me.

"I don't want to hear about what you did all summer; I want to SEE what you did all summer."


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