Following a year at prep school Pulaski native Tyler Smith spurned the University of Tennessee and signed with the University of Iowa. Following a standout prep career, Memphis native J.P. Prince spurned UT and signed with the University of Arizona.
Because of a family illness – his dad's cancer – Smith elected after one season at Iowa to transfer to a school closer to home. Because of a family illness – his own – Prince elected after one and a half seasons at Arizona to transfer to a school closer to home.
Prince decided in January of 2006 to become a Volunteer. Fourteen months later, in March of 2007, Smith decided to become a Volunteer.
As fate would have it, the two native sons wound up playing for the same team in Knoxville's Rocky Top League last summer, even though each team was limited to two UT players.
Clearly, the two young men took circuitous routes to The Hill. Still, they wound up at the same destination, which is a big reason Tennessee is 24-2 and ranked No. 2 nationally heading into Saturday night's game at top-ranked Memphis.
Smith is averaging 13.4 points, a team-best 6.5 rebounds and a team-best 3.7 assists per game as the first-team power forward. He's second on the team in blocked shots and just four off the team lead in steals.
Prince, who became eligible in late December, is averaging 8.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game as a jack-of-all-trades reserve. Despite playing in just 17 games with zero starts, he is third on the team in blocked shots (10) and sixth in steals (18).
Like twins separated at birth, Smith and Prince have found their way home. And, like twins, they seem to have a sixth sense in terms of reading one another's thoughts.
In last Saturday's win at Georgia, for instance, Smith scored three consecutive first-half baskets off assists from Prince. The two collaborated again in the second half. Prince finished the game with four assists; all four set up baskets by Smith. Smith finished with six buckets; four came off Prince assists. Incidentally, one of Prince's four baskets was a dunk off an assist from Smith.
In Wednesday night's defeat of Auburn, the two were at it again. Smith's first basket came off an assist from Prince. The duo hooked up again for Smith's second basket of the second half. Ultimately, two of Smith's five baskets came off Prince assists and half of Prince's four assists were to Smith.
Bottom line: Six of Tyler Smith's last 11 baskets have come off passes from J.P. Prince. Six of Prince's last eight assists have been to Smith.
Appearances to the contrary, there is no ESP involved.
“Me and J.P. played together in the Rocky Top League last summer,” Smith said, “and now we kinda know what each other are going to do.”
No wonder. They've been traveling similar paths for two years.