Tennessee lost a piece of its puzzle when it was announced Tuesday that sophomore power forward Emmanuel Negedu will not play for the Vols for the 2009-10 season and is unlikely to continue his basketball career.
But UT coach Bruce Pearl believes the Vols' frontline can hold strong this season.
"I think our depth chart will still be fine this year,'' Pearl said on the Sports Page radio show. "It moves Kenny Hall into the picture much sooner, and it may mean Renaldo Woolridge moves from the three (wing) to play the four (power forward). Steven Pearl has an opportunity to move up the depth chart.''
Negedu underwent a surgical procedure on his heart Tuesday. The 20-year-old suffered a sudden cardiac arrest on Sept. 28.
Senior Tyler Smith will continue to start at power forward while also playing some minutes on the wing.
Negedu brought an almost freakish athletic tangible the Vols' simply can't replace.
The 6-foot-7, 219-pound Negedu had a 44-inch vertical leap and a 40-yard dash speed of under 4.4 seconds.
"There had been some talk of him running on the track team in the spring," Pearl said, adding that Negedu ran a sub-10 second 100 yard dash. "Emmanuel was a world-class athlete learning basketball."
Hall, a 6-9 true freshman, needs to pick up on the learning curve as his role shifts from prospect to potential impact player.
"Kenny has a toughness to him, and he has an edge,'' Pearl said. "He's grown a little bit and put on 25 pounds. Fans will like his ability to run to the offensive boards.''
For now, senior Wayne Chism anchors the post with junior Brian Williams ready to step in when Chism needs a breather or shifts to power forward.
"I would say Brian has made good strides, not great strides,'' Pearl said. "I'm OK with his progress, but I'm not satisfied. I'm not calling him out, I believe in him. He's very good with ball screens, but he needs to score more.
"Big guys who don't want to get fouled and go to the free throw line don't score a lot of baskets.''
Pearl said UT coaches have worked with Williams to get him shooting the ball in front of his body - rather than starting with the ball behind his head - to put him in position for more easy put-back baskets and three-point plays.
Woolridge, at 6-9, is another option at power forward.
"Renaldo has got to find contact at both ends of the floor, rebounding or getting to the foul line a bit more,'' Pearl said. "He's a big man that can really shoot the basketball. In our system, the four is a friendly position for a big man that can shoot the basketball.
"Where you play is who you can cover. I look for Renaldo to be able to make that transition. He's got a terrific body, but his body has not held any weight yet.''
Woolridge's ball-handling skills and 3-point shooting prowess, however, make him ultimately better-suited to play on the wing.
Walk-on Steven Pearl will likely get some playing time at power forward as well. Pearl, 6-6, was the only UT player who could match up with Negedu in the weight room, and while Pearl's offensive skills are not polished, he's an energetic defender who provides a spark off the bench.
Bruce Pearl said Negedu will remain active in the Vols' team activities.
"The ball stops bouncing for all of us at some point,'' Pearl said. "It is very difficult. Emmanuel's reaction to this event was more about living for his family and wanting to play for his teammates.''
The Vols first full practice is Oct. 16 with an opening exhibition at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, against North Alabama.