Oct. 14, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
With the start of practice Friday, the pace picks up for Tennessee's basketball team.
And after going away from what had become their trademark pressure defense, the Vols are all about picking up the tempo once the season tips off, too.
"I think we'll be back to what people are used to seeing Coach Pearl's system be - very up-tempo," forward Tyler Smith said Wednesday, during the Vols' media day in Thompson-Boling Arena. "Last year, we had a lot of young faces, so we had to run set plays because they really didn't understand the way coach wanted everything.
"Now, we're running it well in practice. As far as our team practice, over in (open) gym (workouts), we're trying to play the same way coach teaches. I think it's really working, and I think it's going to help us out in the long run."
Breaking in a lot of first-year plays in the backcourt last season certainly didn't help the Vols play up-tempo. Neither did a tough early schedule that left little chance to refine Pearl's full-court press, either.
"We didn't feel we had either the experience or the quickness at guard to dictate tempo last year," Pearl said. "We felt like not always were we best playing fast. Sometimes we were better playing a little slower, and that's why we didn't press as much."
Pearl hopes that changes this season, especially considering the Vols figure to once again play a lot of players.
"To beat everybody on our schedule that we're supposed to beat and have a chance to beat some of the teams on our schedule maybe we're not supposed to beat, we've got to get back to that form of play," Pearl said.
According to J.P. Prince, the merits of Pearl's full-court pressure often show up late in games.
"It might not be until the last five minutes where the press makes the difference," he said. "It's fatigue and people keeping up with it. Most teams don't play as many guys and don't run as much as we do.
"It might not even be something the fans see, but we as players know that, `Oh they're tired now' or `Oh, they don't want to run anymore.' Getting to walk the ball that extra 10-20 feet makes a difference in the players' energy. Fatigue is where the press plays a big difference."
That showed up down the stretch for the Vols, too. All three of Tennessee's losses in March came by three points or less, and Prince said part of the reason was because opponents were more fresh at the end of games.
And while the Vols still led the conference in scoring - as Pearl's teams have done in 16 of his 17 seasons as a head coach - the style was definitely different.
"That was our identity. We ran and we scored a lot of points," Prince said. "Even though we still scored a lot of points, it was in a different manner. We'd score, but we'd have to drop back and play defense. We didn't get the easy turnover when somebody was tired and threw the ball away or the point guard wasn't thinking and couldn't get his team in position. That's really where the press comes in handy."
Says Pearl: "If you're going to blitz, you better get to the quarterback, and you better have some lockdown coverage on the outside or you're going to get burned. "Pressing is blitzing. You've got to come up and make plays in those situations. I didn't feel like we did it often enough."