Team chemistry

Tennessee's basketball team went 31-5 in 2007-08 with a lineup that featured less raw ability than the 2008-09 team that went 21-13.

So why did the less gifted team win 10 more games? Team chemistry. Basketball is a mental and emotional game, as well as a physical game, and the '07-08 team was a perfect illustration of this principle. Perhaps the 2009-10 team will be, too.

Several veteran Vols believe the big difference between this year's team and last year's is the tighter bond among the players.

"Everybody's together," senior post Wayne Chism said. "You can hear everybody out there talking. Everybody's glad to be together. It's chemistry."

That wasn't always the case a year ago. With juco transfer Bobby Maze, true freshman Scotty Hopson and redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum trying to identify and fill their new roles, the Vols sometimes looked like a group of strangers who had never practiced together ... let alone played together. That is no longer the case.

"Everybody's playing together and nobody's complaining about who's getting more touches or anything like that," Chism said. "Everybody's passing the ball; nobody's being selfish. We're coming together as a team."

Last week's 97-58 exhibition blowout of Lincoln Memorial University was a perfect illustration. After struggling a bit early, the Vols got on the same page and dominated the rest of the way.

"The first half it was a close game," Chism conceded. "But after everybody started playing together on defense - everybody was talking - we made good stops."

Despite superior height and athleticism, Tennessee was a poor fullcourt defensive team last season. The Vols simply got caught out of position and/or flat-footed too much. This year - with essentially the same group of players - the team is much more effective in the press.

"We committed to it," Chism said. "Last year we didn't commit to the press but we did this time. Everybody's competing to get back on defense, and that's a good thing we're doing."

Head coach Bruce Pearl also sees more commitment and chemistry among his players ... so far.

"I think we know each other better," he said. "I think we know each other on the floor better, off the floor better. But we've faced no adversity. When we face adverse situations - which we will now that we're playing better people - and the rotations and roles become clear, then you'll see what the chemistry's really all about."

Even after just two exhibition games, there is cause for optimism. The team seems to be getting better each time it takes the floor.

"I see progress," Pearl said. "I thought we made progress from the first exhibition game to the second. Now I'm looking for progress this week. The guys have liked practicing, and I like the fact we've gotten back to pressure and playing at that (faster) tempo."

Tennessee has the size, athleticism and experience to approach the 31-victory total of the 2007-08 team. The key is simple:

"Stay together," Chism said. "That's what we've been doing the past two games. Even when we start slow everybody stays together, instead of separating themselves from the team. If we keep staying together we're going to do good things."

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