Big guys, big questions

Yemi Makanjuola

Tennessee's top three inside players from 2010-11 — Tobias Harris, Brian Williams and John Fields — have departed. Returnee Kenny Hall is incredibly foul prone. Returnee Jeronne Maymon played in just 14 games last season. Returnee Renaldo Woolridge is a converted wing whose physicality is suspect.

Given all of the above, a big key to Tennessee's 2011-12 basketball season is the production of two "bigs" the Vols signed last spring — 6-foot-9, 244-pound freshman Yemi Makanjuola and 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior college transfer Dwight Miller. Their development is vital if the Vols are to rise above the gloomy expectations most observers project for the season ahead.

For what it's worth, the early impressions of Vol coaches and teammates are favorable.

"They have good physical frames," first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin said recently. "Yemi's probably a little farther along with the defensive side than he is offensively but I like his offensive skill package, as far as the ability to make shots.

"He has good form. Now he still has to work on his post moves. He has decent form facing up. He's probably more of a face-up than a back-to-the-basket guy. He's better than I thought he was at putting it on the floor. I don't want him to do a lot of putting it on the floor but he's better than I thought he was.

"Dwight's a guy that plays well on the perimeter, makes 3-point shots, is a physical presence. We need him to play inside and outside."

Despite his heft, Miller apparently has the tools to play on the perimeter at times.

"Dwight's got guard skills I didn't know he had," Hall said. "Like, he can put the ball on the floor and he's a good shooter. Yemi's got a long way to go but he's going to be a great player before it's all said and done."

Maymon is impressed with Makanjuola and Miller, as well.

"They're both pretty athletic," the 6-foot-7, 255-pound junior said. "They work hard. I like those guys. They're real cool. Dwight is real aggressive; he looks to score. Yemi is kind of laid-back. I think he just likes to block shots and rebound but Yemi's a very tough player, very strong."

Makanjuola has displayed so much zeal for defending the basket that teammates are a little reluctant to challenge him in practice.

"When I'm in the paint, I don't like anybody coming into the paint," Makanjuola said. "I believe I own the paint, on offense and defense. I try to get all of the rebounds, block shots, do everything I can in the paint and take control of it. My style is contact basketball. I try to make contact without getting fouls."

Senior wing Cameron Tatum believes dedication will help both Makanjuola and Miller develop into solid SEC players.

"They're extremely hard workers," Tatum said. "Dwight is a big, physical guy. He's in the gym all the time, constantly working on his craft. Yemi's the same way. I can say that about all of the freshmen: They're eager to get out there on the floor and they're very, very hungry."

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