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A feel-good day for the Tennessee men’s basketball program was interrupted Friday when coach Bruce Pearl announced that sophomore forward Duke Crews and sophomore point guard Ramar Smith will not be returning for the 2008-09 season.
Violations of the University of Tennessee’s substance-abuse policy and academic shortcomings contributed to both departures, sources within the program told the News Sentinel.
“I am disappointed that Duke and Ramar did not meet the mark and did not succeed to the level of our expectations,” Pearl said moments before UT’s annual basketball banquet.
The announcement came following a media session with Pearl and senior shooting guard Chris Lofton, in which both discussed Lofton’s successful battle against testicular cancer last spring. Lofton first revealed publicly on Thursday that he had suffered from the disease in 2007.
Pearl said the departures of Crews and Smith were not related and not because of any one incident.
“Sort of, over a period of time, a buildup,” Pearl said. “They did a lot of good things, but they also failed to do some things.
“We just felt like — both the University of Tennessee and these student-athletes — we’d be better served to move on.”
Crews and Smith, both freshman All-SEC selections in 2006-07, saw their production and minutes drop off this past season, albeit for different reasons.
In September, Crews was suspended 30 days for a violation of team rules, which included an incident in which a search of his on-campus apartment turned up a small amount of marijuana. Crews was not charged by campus police.
He had, however, previously failed a drug test, the News Sentinel reported at the time of his suspension, citing an anonymous source within the athletic department.
“Everybody will have their own opinion,” Crews said after returning from suspension in October. “I’m just sorry it happened.”
As per UT’s drug policy for a first-time violation, he was not suspended for the failed drug test, although he was subject to more frequent testing. Under UT’s drug policy, a player is immediately dismissed following a fourth positive test for marijuana.
In December, Crews was diagnosed with a heart condition after a routine echocardiogram revealed a possible defect. As a result he missed UT’s next nine games before returning to the court in late January.
He finished the season averaging 5.4 points and four rebounds in 26 games.
Smith, meanwhile, struggled to produce the way he did as a freshman. After averaging 14.7 points in UT’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2006, Smith did not start a game in this year’s NCAA tournament, although he played in all 36 of UT’s games. He averaged 7.4 points and was second on the team with 116 assists this past season.
Smith also struggled to gain admission to Tennessee. He enrolled in late August of 2006 after the NCAA Clearinghouse finally validated an SAT score from earlier in the summer. A highly recruited player from Detroit, Smith had initially committed to Connecticut.
In late September, Smith was involved in an odd incident in which he borrowed a teammate’s car and crashed it, leaving the scene before police arrived. Pearl said at the time Smith was not charged by police because a friend picked him up to receive medical treatment for a cut above his eye.
Another point guard from Michigan, signee Daniel West from Saginaw, would figure to benefit from Smith’s departure when West arrives on campus this summer. Sophomore J.P. Prince also could be in the point guard mix next fall, as he played there extensively in last season’s NCAA tournament. Hoopsreport.com reported that the Vols extended a scholarship offer to 6-foot-3-inch point guard Bobby Maze of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He started for Oklahoma as a freshman but was dismissed from the team.
Crews’ minutes likely will be spread among a number of players, including Ryan Childress, in Pearl’s deep rotation.
Staff writer Drew Edwards contributed to this report.