Pearl 'not putting any pressure' on Harris

Tobias Harris is an 18-year-old freshman hundreds of miles from home who's being asked to shoulder the scoring and play-making load in the paint for 23rd-ranked Tennessee this season.

"There's no pressure,'' Harris said, not batting an eye. "This is what I came here for. I just need to play my game.''

The Vols play their season opener tonight against Chattanooga (TV: SportSouth, 9 p.m.), a team that likes to double-down in the post and smother power forwards like Harris.

The UT coaching staff, however, doesn't seem overly concerned about Harris' match up.

"I'm not putting any pressure on Tobias,'' Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "I'm just doing my job, and that's to put the ball in the hands of our best players and let them make plays on offense and teach them to defend.''

UT associate head coach Tony Jones, who recruited Harris out of Dix Hills, N.Y., said the table is set for the promising young freshman.

"I don't think there's any other freshman in the country that could handle this kind of load,'' Jones said. "It's his background; his father is a patriarch of a basketball family and (former NBA star) George Gervin is his Godfather.

"Tobias has seen it all, and he won't be fazed.''

Harris, 6-foot-8, 226 pounds, will likely be guarded by junior Chris Early (6-7, 242) and/or senior Troy Cage (6-5,195), a couple of players who were highly regarded prospects themselves.

Early started his career at Oklahoma, and Cage transferred to Chattanooga from UNLV.

Point guard Keegan Bell also played a season at Vanderbilt, and small forward Omar Wattad is eligible this season after transferring from Georgetown.

"This is going to be a physical ball game,'' Pearl said. "They are very athletic, and they play very hard.''

The collective subplot that has played out in the days leading to tonight's game is the question of how the Vols will rebound from one of the most stunning exhibition game losses by a Top 25 team in years, a 79-64 setback at the hands of Division ll Indianapolis Monday night.

"It was an eye-opener,'' UT senior post Brian Williams said. "It isn't on our record, but it's on our mind.''

Pearl said only his players can answer the questions being asked about the team in the wake of the exhibition setback.

"Ready or not, here it comes,'' Pearl said. "We'll see where we're at.

"The focus has been good, the work has been good, but this is a team with a lot of new pieces,'' he said. "Are we talented enough to overcome the newness?''

Vols' senior point guard Melvin Goins, UT's appointed leader, has set a serious tone for his teammates in the workouts since the humbling defeat.

"Our focus is dialed in, and we're ready to turn the page,'' Goins said. "We might look good on paper, but we've got to put it on the court.

"I expect a turnaround, and a win.''

Remember Omar?: Wattad hails from Johnson City and played in the Pilot Rocky Top League before playing for Georgetown.

Wattad faced the Vols as a member of the Hoyas at the Old Spice Classic two years ago, scoring nine points on 3-of-3 shooting beyond the 3-point arc while gathering five rebounds in UT's 90-78 win over Georgetown.

"Of course I remember him,'' Pearl said. "That guy can make shots.''

Numbers: The Vols opened as a 27-point favorite, but the line dropped to 22 points within hours on Thursday, indicating most wages being placed on the Mocs ... Pearl is 5-0 in home openers with an average margin of victory of 27.8 points. ... UT has won 11-straight season-openers dating back to a 73-72 loss to Arizona in 1998. ... The Vols have won 18 straight home openers dating back to an 87-79 setback to East Tennessee State in 1991.

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. He may be reached at 865-755-5599. Follow him at http://twitter.com/mgrif32 and at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/askgriff/

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Comments » 3

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Goins needs to be himself as well! It'll be a good game first half I think before UT takes over. We need to not turn it over!! Scotty needs to let the ball come to him Williams needs to dominate the boards, Woolridge needs to focus on Defense and play the paint for rebounds....lol I'm excited about this game...I don't know who to pull for!!!!!! I guess UT as they need the win more. UTC will do well in their conference. UT should win anyhow, although UTC has talent as well just not as deep.

volinuptonky writes:

Let the fun begin.

LOWCOUNTRYVOL writes:

I do love me some CBP!

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