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9/14/2006 12:16:00 AM

Late Enrollment, Early Expectations

Ramar Smith is officially a Vol.
Early on the morning of Aug. 31, nine days after the fall semester had begun at the University of Tennessee, head basketball coach Bruce Pearl was escorting a freshman to his first college class, an 8 a.m. sociology lecture. The student had arrived on campus the previous day with his uncle. They had left Detroit by car soon after receiving news from the Educational Testing Service: His SAT score, which had become a popular prayer subject in his household, was finally validated. He would be cleared by the NCAA to do what makes him a commodity to Pearl and the university: play point guard.

The freshman's name is Ramar Smith, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound star from the Motor City's Martin Luther King High School who is rated the No. 20 overall prospect (by rivals.com) in the Class of 2006. For Pearl, who lost four-year starter C.J. Watson to graduation after he guided the team to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, getting Smith on campus was a matter of utmost importance.

"Ramar met me at the Thornton Center [where the basketball offices are] at 7:30 in the morning," Pearl said. "We had his schedule ready and waiting. I dropped him off at class, and the rest was history."

Here's the previous history on Smith: After originally committing to UConn in August of 2005, he had a falling out with the Huskies in October of that year when he opted to leave South Kent (Conn.) Prep and re-enroll in public school in Detroit. Smith settled on the Vols on April 13, but the coaching staff had to hold its breath until Aug. 30, when his eligibility was, at last, confirmed.

(Smith's passing SAT score of 910 had been under review because signatures did not match on some of his documents; he told the Tennessean last month that the problem was cleared after it was revealed his mother had filled out some of the financial aid papers.)

That gave Smith the green light to join a stellar class of incoming freshmen that already included two other top-40 prospects, forwards Duke Crews (No. 26) and Wayne Chism (No. 34) as well as top-150 guard Marques Johnson (No. 130). Pearl said Smith's arrival will create a "competitive situation" at the point; although Smith is technically a combo guard, and Vols have three other options to play the one ('05 backup Jordan Howell, Johnson, and fellow freshman Josh Tabb), the kid from Detroit is rumored to be the frontrunner to take the reins.

"I prefer to play point guard," said Smith, who gave SI.com his first interview since arriving in Knoxville. "And I feel like I'm ready to play in the SEC right away."

While Smith, a former high school cornerback whom Pearl calls a "physically mature guard who does not play like a freshman," may be the Vols' best option at the one, he is not guaranteed to be a standout. "He's never been a full-time point guard -- he's always been a combo," Pearl said. "So it's still to be determined if he's got the right mentality."

Will Smith become a valuable late addition? For a team that dismissed its 10.6-point-per-game center, Major Wingate, last week after he reportedly failed a third drug test, and will be forced to play dangerously small for the second consecutive year in Pearl's full-court system, Tennessee can't afford to have an inconsistent backcourt. It needs someone who can create open looks for returning two-guard Chris Lofton, who is one of the nation's top sharpshooters, and who won't play tentatively against a brutal non-conference slate that includes Texas, Ohio State, Memphis and Oklahoma State.

Pearl said there were times this summer where Smith "looked like the best player" in the entire AAU 19-and-under championships in Orlando, Fla. "Ramar has a different gear than most guards do," said the coach. When asked what that gear was, Smith said, "It means I can lock down a point guard that's giving us trouble, or make sure I score when we need a bucket."

Whether he can turn that on in the SEC, we will soon find out.
posted by Luke Winn | View comments (12) |


Posted: 12:24 AM   by Blogger Pac-Man
Tennessee got a point guard. So? Their backcourt was already reasonably loaded. If Villanova couldn't win with an overwhelming perimeter team next year, how do you expect Tennessee to? They are nothing more than a gimmick team who won't surprise anyone this year.
Posted: 1:34 AM   by Anonymous Carlton Dotson
uh, steve, who expected tennessee to win the national title? i really don't see that anywhere in that post. as a vol fan i do think smith matters. no point guard = no shots for lofton = we are screwed.
Posted: 6:22 AM   by Anonymous Matt
It's football time in Tennessee!
Posted: 7:46 AM   by Blogger VolDon
ummm, not sure what you guys are talking about. Villanova was a great team with lots of wins last year without a big man. And, I don't see where anything was mentioned about a national championship for the Vols in the article. He is just saying that Ramar should be an important piece of the team as a freshman already and he appears to be a good guard who appears to have the potential to play well this year already.
Posted: 9:17 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Uh Steve, TN had 7 contributors last year, including a 6'4" guard turned power forward. Difference this year is that they will have numbers and a whole lot more talent (albeit young talent). We'll see if your gimmick comment holds up - I think no.
Posted: 9:20 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Another Michigan blue chip recruit that decides not to go to the U of M. Good work Tommy.
Posted: 10:51 AM   by Anonymous mark
Nove wasn't a gimmick, it was done out of neccesity when their all america 4 got hurt. They will be tough this year even after losing two stars.

You don't sneak up on people in conference play. The Vols may have snuck up on an overrated Texas Team in December, but everyone knew what was coming and they played hard to gain a number 2 seed. I'm ure even withotu Wingate they will still be atleast a 4 seen
Posted: 11:48 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Steve - with about 12 true centers in all of college basketball most schools rely on perimeter shooting. With your logic isn't nearly every team a gimmick team?

I like the idea of scheduling tough opponents out of conference.
Posted: 12:17 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
There are only two places in Tennessee have National Championship contention each year and Men's Basketball isn't one of them,Buti bet by the time these 4 are Seniors they might be talking 3 teams from campus
Posted: 12:24 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Why is the second guy using the moniker Carlton Dotson? A little insensitive don't you think?
Posted: 11:22 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
910 on the SAT?? another college athlete who I'm SURE won't get any help in all his sociology, sports medicine, and communications classes....
Posted: 12:49 AM   by Anonymous Barefoot Serpent
Since UT whipped florida twice in Bruce's first season, it looks like Pearl's got Billy Donovan's number. It's going to be fun to see what happens this year with the core of that team returning and the infusion of new talent. Go Vols!
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