Tyler Smith will show off his improved shot, even as he turns his attention to more pressing matters.
This article appears in the November 23, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
Last spring Tyler Smith thought he was ready to go pro. Tennessee's All-SEC power forward declared for the draft after leading the Vols in scoring (17.4 points per game) and assists (3.4) as a junior. But a couple of things held him back: His spotty jump shot had scouts projecting him as, at best, a second-round pick; and Tennessee's 77-75 loss to Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA tournament was eating him up inside. Returning to Knoxville, he reasoned, would let him work on his game at the same time he was working on winning a championship.
Now coach Bruce Pearl is relying on the 6' 7", 215-pound Smith not only to hit the J but also to play end-to-end D. Pearl refers to his signature full-court press as "controlled chaos," and he has been instilling its virtues since preseason practice began. Recently he halted an intrasquad scrimmage to loudly congratulate Smith for taking a charge. "I haven't taken one since I've been at Tennessee," says Smith with a laugh.
Pearl had to play a half-court game last season because his team lacked the experience and depth to press. This year the Vols have five starters back from a team that won the SEC East and led the conference in scoring (78.4 points per game). Among the returnees are four seniors, including Smith, 6' 9", 246-pound center Wayne Chism (a team-high 8.0 boards per game) and energetic point guard Bobby Maze. On the bench Pearl has walk-on freshman shooting guard Skylar McBee, who provides a three-point touch the Vols lacked a year ago, and junior college transfer Melvin Goins, a defensive stopper at the point. "To play up-tempo, you need to be deep," says Pearl. "We want to generate offense with our defense."
With a roster full of talent and experience, the Vols might be pressing well into March. If they do, Smith should be a happy man entering next year's NBA draft -- one way or the other.
-- Mark Beech
Issue date: November 23, 2009