With news last week that Skylar McBee and Josh Bone have been placed on scholarship, the basketball Vols have now finalized their roster for the 2010-11 season. Tennessee also continues to be a force in recruiting - Mike Griffith has an excellent story on where the Vols are going from here - as the Vols have the #9 class in the nation according to Rivals (only UK and UT were in the Top 15 from the SEC).
Without a doubt, Bobby Maze, J.P. Prince, and Wayne Chism will be missed. But the Vols have moved from rebuilding to reloading under Pearl - with the NBA Draft early entry deadline having come and gone, the Vols are at #18 in ESPN.com's 2011 Top 25 from Andy Katz. The expectations around here continue to change: making the tournament is now an assumption, and playing in its second weekend is now the goal. Whether this team is good enough to get to the Final Four is a question that'll be answered during the season...but this team should be good enough to continue to give itself a chance to move Tennessee Basketball forward.
Here's a look at what the Vols have coming back, not only for this season, but as a primer on the future: the 2010-11 roster breakdown by class.
Seniors: C Brian Williams, PG Melvin Goins, PG Josh Bone, F Steven Pearl
It's an odd senior class this year, with only one guy who's been a long term contributor to the program (Cameron Tatum was the other signee in 2007, but redshirted). Brian Williams was never better than in the final month of the past season - he averaged only 5.6 points and 6.4 rebounds over the entire year (and didn't play in 10 games after the January 1 arrests), but in the Vols' final eight games, Williams averaged 7.6 points and 10.0 rebounds; seven of those games were in tournament play, and the Vols went 6-2 in that stretch overall.
Much of the criticism surrounding Williams was about how a guy listed as 6'10" 278 lbs (he's lost weight, have you heard?) could be as soft as BWill was at times early in his career. But there was nothing soft about the way he played once he got back in the flow after the arrests - he was the final piece of the puzzle for the Vols last year, the key factor in the team finally playing its best basketball. He had 41 rebounds in 4 NCAA Tournament games, and scored the big final putback bucket to give the Vols the lead against Ohio State in the final minute.
Williams will need to go from complementary post player to leader on this team...but the way he progressed last year, you have to be excited about what he could bring to the table in his senior season.
The point guard minutes should start with Goins, who hit some big shots and did some nice things for the Vols backing up Bobby Maze. Now the job is his to lose - can Melvin become the consistent guy to lead this team and make the offense go? Josh Bone joins him as a transfer senior finishing out his career - Bone was a great defender at times, and stepped in after a long absence to give the Vols 30 minutes in their final three tournament games. If the Vols don't use any freshmen (who we'll get to) at point guard, can the Goins/Bone rotation give the Vols everything they need? We may find out we miss Bobby Maze more than we thought we would if not.
And then there's the coach's son, who will again look to fill the final holes in the rotation. I'll say this: if he gets any sort of offensive move (and shoots better than 5 of 19 at the free throw line), he plays enough defense to validate giving him some minutes. I'd love to see Steven do enough to get some love from the fan base in his final year.
Because of BWill's suspension, he won't get Chism's record to become the winningest player in school history, and it's hard to talk about "this senior class," because you're really only talking about him...but either way, this group of four still has a chance to continue to lead this program forward.
Juniors: SG Scotty Hopson, G/F Cameron Tatum, F Renaldo Woolridge
A talented threesome that could be the most important difference between the Vols being good and great next year. Obviously the focus will be on Scotty Hopson, as he will go from secondary piece of the puzzle to its first and most important one. Hopson's reality hasn't quite caught up with his potential in the eyes of many, but keep in mind that he did improve from year one to year two, scoring 9.2 points per game his freshman year and 12.2 per contest last year. Hopson's three point percentage did drop slightly, and his free throw shooting (58.8%) has to be addressed (see: Michigan State). How well will Hopson handle the pressure of being the man, a role he's appeared ready for at times but at others not at all? Will he continue to grow in what could be his final season in Knoxville?
Cam Tatum is another guy who has to go from contributor to consistent producer. Tatum could earn a starting role on this team; he was the team's best bench player last year, averaging 7.4 points and shooting a team best 38.9% from three. He's already shown flashes of ability to both knock down a jumper and get to the hole - Tennessee needs guys who can create their own shots, and right now Tatum is on the short list.
Swipa is a guy who is yet to find a consistent place with this team (other than hype man). He was great against Charlotte, Kansas, and Auburn in the first three games after the arrests, then really fell off the map, and played only nine total minutes in the Vols' final thirteen games. He's a 6'8" athlete, and when you watch him at times you think there has to be a way he can help this team. Will he get into the post rotation this year, or will those minutes again go to Pearl? Or will the Vols try to use him at the 3 and hope his outside shot starts falling again?
If Hopson doesn't turn pro early, a 2012 lineup of Hopson, Tatum, Tobias, Kenny Hall, and a five star freshman point guard could absolutely get up and down the floor, and be picked much higher than 18th in preseason polls. But we're getting ahead of ourselves...
Sophomores: PF Kenny Hall, SG Skylar McBee, F Jeronne Maymon
Kenny Hall will be one of the more important players to watch this year - he showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman year, but saw a drastic reduction in minutes once the NCAA Tournament started. He still scored in double figures five times, and should come back a little stronger this season. Hall's minutes depend on how the Vols choose to use Tobias Harris: if it's at the 3, Hall can play the 4 beside Brian Williams. But if Harris plays the 4 (which I think he will), then Hall has to become the first option off the bench to spell Williams at the 5. Again, so much of the team's success in 2011 will depend on how well and how quickly guys can make the transition from contributor to producer: Hopson, Tatum and BWill have to become leaders, and Hall has to become a consistent contributor.
MCB43! ended the year as a 31.3% three point shooter, and did not play against Ohio State or Michigan State. With the talent the Vols have coming in at guard, McBee shouldn't have to contribute in huge ways...but anything the Vols get from him would be bonus. You always hear about what a hard worker this guy is, and how he can be more than just a shooter...if that shows up, he can give the Vols quality minutes off the bench.
Maymon is a transfer from Marquette, who as I understand it will be a sophomore eligible to play once the fall semester ends in December (same situation as J.P. Prince in 2007-08). Maymon is listed as 6'6" 250 lbs, and averaged 4.0 points and 4.2 rebounds in ten games with Marquette before leaving the team over a dispute about his role. Maymon was the #47 player in the Class of 2009 via Rivals; talent wise, the best case scenario for the Vols appears to be a post rotation of Harris and Williams, with Maymon and Hall off the bench. We'll see what he's got when December gets here.
Freshmen: F Tobias Harris, G Trae Golden, G Jordan McRae
Tobias Harris is arguably the most talented player the Vols have ever signed - Harris was ranked 4th in the nation before breaking his foot and dropping to 7th. Tobias is 6'8" and should help the Vols immediately, whether he turns out to be a one-and-done player or not. There are all kinds of comparisons we want to make with this kid without having seen him (including the Tyler Smith/Wayne Chism hybrid), and we've already seen the patience it sometimes takes with McDonald's All-Americans. But this is definitely someone to be excited about, and if he's great right away, the Vols can be great right away.
Golden and McRae will have to find roles with this team, which could be anything from starters to contributors off the bench. Golden is 6'1" and may possibly have a chance to get some point guard minutes, while McRae at 6'6" should get in the rotation with Hopson and Tatum. Are these two better right away than Josh Bone and Skylar McBee? Even if not, they certainly have a higher ceiling. McRae is 47th and Golden 63rd in Rivals' national rankings.
Class of 2011: PG Kevin Ware, PG Chris Jones
Even if Golden isn't an answer at point guard, the graduation of Goins and Bone in 2011 should be eased by the additions of Ware and Jones, both current Tennessee commitments. Jones, listed at 5'10", plays at Memphis Melrose and is ranked as the 36th best player in the country going into his senior season. Ware is a five star 6'4" point from Conyers, GA, currently ranked as the 22nd best player in the 2011 class. These two have to be the answers to UT's future point guard questions.
As you can see, the future remains bright, both in the incoming class and in future recruits. The present has a chance to be bright as well, if the Vols get continued maturation from the entire team. With Hopson's inconsistency and the unknown quality that surrounds all true freshmen, there are no guarantees in this lineup right now...but there is a ton of talent, and a bunch of good pieces that will once again have a chance to come together to make a great basketball team.