The Vols closed ranks and played their best basketball of the season while they were short-handed, so how will the return of Goins and Tatum affect team chemistry?
"It's not going to affect it because we was playing with 'em earlier," senior post Wayne Chism said. "They know what we expect of them when they come back. They know what they can do good and we know what they can do. We just got to stay together, as we've been doing, and believe."
Although some fans fret that the incredible unity and team spirit Tennessee developed during the recent adversity could be weakened by the return of Goins and Tatum, Chism isn't buying into that. He says the reinstatement of the two players is a real plus.
"It's going to feel good because the spirit's going to rise on our team," he said. "But we ain't going to let it rise so that we forget what we've got to do Tuesday night (at Alabama).
"The teammates are going to come back knowing they've got something to prove. They know they've got to step up against Alabama. They know we're going to need their help."
Based on calls to Knoxville sports-talk shows, many fans wanted all four of the suspended players dismissed from the program following their Jan. 1 arrest on marijuana and weapons charges. Another segment of fans suggested that any of the four allowed to rejoin the team should be relegated to the end of the bench.
Pearl apparently agrees with the second group of fans. He said following Saturday's 71-69 overtime defeat of Ole Miss that, "Obviously, the rotations won't change right away but it'll be great to have them there."
That means Chism, Renaldo Woolridge, J.P. Prince, Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze will continue to start, with Kenny Hall, Skylar McBee, Josh Bone and Steven Pearl contributing off the bench.
Bone made great strides during Goins' absence and may be difficult to dislodge at the No. 2 point guard because he's bigger than Goins (6-3 vs. 5-10) and a better 3-point shooter. Tatum, on the other hand, could be the No. 2 small forward pretty soon. That's because the Vols are thin at the forward spots since Smith was suspended and then dismissed on Jan. 8. Williams, a reserve post player, remains suspended indefinitely.
“While I can’t comment on specifics, the degree of discipline applied reflects levels of individual involvement based on the investigation, as well as UT’s judicial affairs process,” Pearl said. “I do want to thank our fans for their patience as we have worked, and continue to work, through this.”
Another obvious question: How will Tatum and Goins respond to riding the pine for the foreseeable future? Their coach believes they will accept their roles without complaint.
"I think those guys are going to be terrific, supportive," Pearl said. "They're proud of their friends and teammates. They'll work and they'll get ready and they'll stay ready."