The one spot on this team where there's no discussion and no debate is at one guard, where Chris Lofton should one day find his way to the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters. #5's greatness is well documented, and not only was he a fantastic individual player, but he was the focal point of the program's resurrection under Bruce Pearl.
But who else joins Lofton and CJ Watson (who won our point guard poll with 70% of the vote over Tony Harris) on the perimeter for the Vols' All-Decade Team? As we'll see, the competition gets a lot tougher with this group from here on out.
Three players representing three coaches and three different styles of play make the list for today's vote. All three were great scorers and three point shooters, and all three also excelled in one additional area, from double-double potential every night by working the glass, to an ice cold touch at the free throw line above 90%, to an up-tempo defensive style that fed off the press and turnovers. Two of the three played on successful teams, while the third carried lesser talent to an NIT appearance. So there are lots of factors to weigh and judge in deciding who will join Lofton and Watson on the All-Decade Team.
We break down the numbers and the debate by taking a look at Vincent Yarbrough, Scooter McFadgon, and JaJuan Smith...
Tennessee Basketball was fresh off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade when Vincent Yarbrough stepped onto campus in the 1998-99 season. You've probably heard his name a lot this season when commentators were discussing Scotty Hopson, who was the first McDonald's All-American the Vols have signed since Yarbrough. Vince was thought to be the final piece of Jerry Green's puzzle, joining a loaded Tennessee squad as a freshman who would be the one to carry the program to new heights.
And in some ways, he did. Yarbrough was the leading scorer as a sophomore on Tennessee's 2000 team, which you could argue was Tennessee's most talented of the decade; the '00 Vols are the only group that's even in the conversation with the '08 team that made it to #1 in the polls, but the first group of the decade featured Yarbrough, Tony Harris, CJ Black, Isaiah Victor, Jon Higgins (another fine perimeter player this decade), and Charles Hathaway and Ron Slay coming off the bench. Yarbrough averaged 14.8 points and 6.9 rebounds on that squad, leading the team in both categories. That's very impressive.
The Vols made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history that year, and Yarbrough helped the Vols get back in the following season, before ending his career in Buzz Peterson's first season, posting a very impressive 18-8-3 average. Yarbrough at 6'7" was able to play inside and out, and was a second round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets after his senior season. Everything you need to know about his NBA career can be summed up here:
But lots of people have been dunked on by Kobe Bryant; don't let that keep you from voting for him.
With Peterson entering his third season in Knoxville, the Vols got a bonus when Scooter McFadgon transfered from Memphis to UT. He showed up and made an instant impact, scoring 17.6 PPG in his first season in Knoxville. That same season he finished third in the nation in free throw percentage, at a ridiculous 91.2%, and got the Vols into the NIT.
Chris Lofton's arrival balanced out the scoring in McFadgon's senior season, but he still averaged 14.3 PPG, leading the team in scoring in both of his seasons in Knoxville. In two seasons at Memphis, McFadgon averaged only 9 points per game, but in Knoxville he shined at 16 points per contest.
One of the most enjoyable Vols to watch this decade was JaJuan Smith, the third member of this in-state group. Smith wasn't a McDonald's All-American or a Tiger High transfer, but a walk-on under Buzz Peterson who rose to stardom under Bruce Pearl. In Pearl's first season, Smith led the Bench Mob with 9.5 points per contest off the pine, and fired the shots that announced the presence of BruceBall with consecutive deep threes at Texas in the fall of 2005, enabling the Tennessee run that the Longhorns never recovered from.
Smith stepped into the starting lineup and only continued to excel, a dangerous secondary option to Lofton and the hardest working man on the defensive end. Juanny averaged 15 points per in 2007 and 14 in 2008, and continued to lead the team in run-incuding plays; whether it was a steal, a deep three or an athletic play like this one:
A flu-ridden Smith almost single-handedly beat LSU in Baton Rouge in 2008 with an end of game steal and score. Lofton got the press and the superstardom, but Juanny appeared to be the perfect player for Pearl's system, and his presence was sorely missed this season.
Statistical Comparison (again, statsheet.com):
- Vincent Yarbrough: 13.7 PPG, 44.0 FG%, 68.7 FT%, 34.0 3PT%, 6.8 rebs, 2.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks per game
- Scooter McFadgon: 15.8 PPG, 39.1 FG%, 89.8 FT%, 36.3 3PT%, 3.9 rebs, 1.7 assists, 0.6 steals per game
- JaJuan Smith: 11.0 PPG, 43.8 FG%, 69.6 FT%, 37.2 3PT%, 3.2 rebs, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals per game
McFadgon has the best offensive numbers, though that's both in part because he only played as a junior and senior at Tennessee (and never came off the bench like Juanny), and because of the overall talent level around him. Yarbrough is another one of those ex-Vols who really isn't appreciated as much as he should be; VY is one of the most complete players to ever wear the orange, and was the best player on one of Tennessee's best teams. Juanny was the sparkplug for Bruce Pearl, good on both ends of the floor and a part of the most successful team in Tennessee Basketball history.
Who gets your vote on the perimeter?