Undefeated basketball teams aren't supposed to get dissed. So
naturally Brandon Wharton was peeved when he overheard the
following exchange before a game last December between USC and
the 9-0 Volunteers. "Is Tennessee any good?" one fan asked.
"Yeah, in football," his friend replied.
Recalls Wharton, "I came back to the bench and told everybody
'You won't believe what this man just said.' I was waiting for
them to start talking about Peyton Manning."
It will take more than a modest winning streak for the folks of
Knoxville--besotted as they are with their football, not to
mention their women's hoops team--to alter the barstool
conversation in favor of Wharton and his teammates. However, the
gentlemen Volunteers did raise their campus profile last spring
by reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1989.
With the addition of 6'7" forward Vincent Yarbrough, one of the
nation's most highly touted freshmen, to a Tennessee lineup that
retains its top nine players from last season, Vols fans have
even loftier expectations for the year ahead.
So once more, with feeling: Is Tennessee any good? The short
answer is yes. For starters, point guard Tony Harris, SEC
co-rookie of the year last season, should be better. After
missing 12 of 13 field goal attempts in the Vols' 82-81 overtime
loss to Illinois State in the first round of last year's NCAAs,
Harris spent most of the summer working on his outside shot. "I
just felt sick after that loss," says Harris, who, in a
remarkable display of self-flagellation, has frequently reviewed
tapes of that game. "Coming in as a freshman last year, I felt
like I had to do it all by myself."
Harris and Wharton, the team's leading scorer last year and a
two-time All-SEC selection, form one of the nation's
highest-scoring backcourt tandems. The Vols are solid up front
too. C.J. Black, a 6'8" junior, led the SEC in blocks (2.5 per
game) last season, and 6'9" sophomore reserve Isiah Victor, a
spring-legged post player who shot 51% from the field in '97-98,
has the look of a guy ready for a breakout year. Charles
Hathaway, a 6'10" sophomore, has the potential to be one of the
SEC's top centers, but only if he sheds more of the 35 pounds he
put on last season while recovering from surgery to remove a
blood clot in his shoulder.
How deeply Tennessee advances into the NCAA tournament will
depend in the end on the offensive juice it gets from Yarbrough,
a multidimensional swingman who is the program's most hotly
anticipated freshman since Bernard King in 1974. Two summers ago
Vols coach Jerry Green twice had to talk Yarbrough, who had just
completed his junior year of high school, out of giving Kentucky
a verbal commitment. "We just decided we had to have this kid,"
Green says. The Tennessee players feel a similar urgency about
the upcoming season. "Everybody has their time to shine," says
Black. "Now is our time."
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF [*]Rashard Lee 6'6" Sr. 10.3 ppg
PF [*]C.J. Black 6'8" Jr. 12.6 ppg
C [*]Charles Hathaway 6'10" So. 6.4 rpg
SG [*]Brandon Wharton 6'3" Sr. 15.2 ppg
PG [*]Tony Harris 6'0" So. 14.2 ppg
'97-98 record: 20-9 Final rank (coaches' poll): unranked