Even so, freshmen Wes Washpun, Josh Richardson, Quinton Chievous and Yemi Makanjuola, along with junior college transfer Dwight Miller, may have to contribute immediately for a 2011-12 Vol squad that must replace five seniors and two underclassmen who filled key roles last winter.
Can the newcomers help? The early returns are encouraging.
"They blended in really good," sophomore point guard Trae Golden said following Friday's workout. "They're really talented, and we expect big things from them. They all come in and work hard. They have good attitudes, so they're blending in pretty well."
Based on the comments of coaches and Vol veterans, Washpun may be the most polished of the newcomers.
"The thing about Wes is he's quick, he's athletic, he's blocked big guys' shots," head coach Cuonzo Martin said following Friday's opening workout. "He's quick with the ball, he pushes the ball and he's a point guard who loves to find his shooters and his big guys.
"He has a high level of energy and a high level of passion. He loves to play, always has a smile on his face. He's one of those guys who will get his players involved. He's fun to be around."
Associate head coach Tracy Webster, a three-time All-Big Ten point guard at the University of Wisconsin, also believes Washpun has the necessary skill set for the position.
"I think he's going to be a competitor," Webster said. "He's a guy with athleticism. He has swagger. I think he's willing to learn, and I think he's going to be a good player for us."
Rather than feel threatened by his young competitor, Golden feels a desire to help Washpun become comfortable and productive on The Hill.
"We haven't conversed a lot because he just got here," Golden said. "But point guard is definitely one of the toughest positions to play, so I'll tell him to keep his confidence and keep believing in himself. He's going to have rough, rocky times. It's the SEC, with some of the best players in the country, so you have to keep believing in yourself. You're here for a reason, and never forget that."
Two of Washpun's freshman classmates, Richardson and Chievous, spent the past few months in Knoxville — attending summer school, playing in the Rocky Top League and playing pickup games with their Vol teammates. That gave them a head start in preparing for college ball.
"I think it really helped those guys, even though I didn't get to coach those guys during the summer time," Martin said. "Just the strength of their bodies (improved). I think Josh picked up between eight and 10 pounds of muscle and Q (Chievous) always had a pretty good frame on him. I thought those guys were ready, just because they'd been around the older guys and understood what was expected. Wes, Yemi and Dwight did a really good job, as well."
The rookies learned quickly that playing for Tennessee will be taxing. Friday's festivities started with a 6 a.m. timed mile run, followed by a rigorous weight-lifting session, classes, then a long practice.
"That normally takes a lot out of the guys, with the fact they had to go to class and then we do these workouts," Martin said. "I thought they did a pretty good job. They were in better shape in this workout (than last spring). There was a lot of defensive work — a lot of slides, a lot of movement. I thought they were in pretty good shape."
Golden conceded that Martin's practices may be even tougher than those of predecessor Bruce Pearl.
"They're both great coaches," Golden said. "I think Coach Martin focuses a lot on defense and making sure our defense is going to be top-notch. We're going to be in great shape and for 40 minutes we're going to defend really well."
Because Tennessee is without last season's top three inside players — 6-8 Tobias Harris, 6-10 Brian Williams and 6-9 John Fields — the Vols desperately need help from Makanjuola (6-9, 244) and Miller (6-8, 240). Webster believes they'll get some.
"They're two big guys that can move," the Vol aide said. "They can move their feet. They're huge bodies but they're possibly capable of defending smaller guys on the perimeter. I like their work ethic. Their work ethic was really good."
Given the rigors they had to endure on the first day of practice, the newcomers will need strong work ethics. They weren't pushed this hard previously.
"They're freshmen, so it's not always easy," Webster said. "They pushed through it. They know it's going to get better each day, and I thought they did a good job."