Former Tennessee two-time SEC Player of the Year and NBA all-star Dale Ellis likes what he sees from new Vols coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff.
But ultimately, Ellis said, the Tennessee players will determine this season's fortunes.
"I like the way (Martin) conducts his practices,'' said Ellis, who sat through the Vols' practice on Thursday while waiting to train former UT player and Milwaukee Bucks' first-round draft pick Tobias Harris.
"This staff seems to be getting these guys motivated, there's no doubt about that,'' said Ellis, who played with the Vols 1979-83.
"The intensity they come with in practice they will have to bring to the game every single night to be competitive.''
Harris has been taking classes at UT (14 credits) during the NBA lockout, and is working with Ellis during the weekdays and flying to San Antonio to work with former Spurs' shooting specialist George Gervin.
Ellis indicated that two operative words for the inexperienced Vols should be "effort" and "opportunity.''
"There are opportunities on this team for someone to rise to the occasion,'' Ellis said. "Guys that sat on the bench last year now have new life.
"They're going to have to find a scorer to go to.''
Defensive Stoppers: Martin said UT needs to have "at least two defensive stoppers" on the floor at all times.
"One in the paint and one on the perimeter,'' Martin said. "We have guys that can score the ball, but they have to be decent enough on defense where they don't hurt you.''
Martin said point guards Trae Golden and Wes Washpun have been the best at pressuring the ball.
"Trae is better at it than I thought he would be,'' Martin said. "Those two guys have made the biggest jump, because they're out here battling each other every day.''
Hall Pass: Martin said junior post Kenny Hall has met the challenge in the paint, increasing his weight from 217 to 230 and showing a great work ethic.
"Kenny is doing a good job banging inside,'' Martin said. "Kenny is a better shooter than I first thought, but Kenny's also in the gym every day at 6 a.m. He puts the work in. Kenny needs to be more selfish on the floor; he's a good scorer.''
Big Man Breakdown: Martin revealed that in addition to playing power forward, Renaldo Woolridge is working at the post along with Hall and freshman Yemi Makanjuola, while Jeronne Maymon and Dwight Mitchell are working exclusively at power forward.
UT assistant Jon Harris, who works mostly with the big men, said the Vols have the most important ingredient in the paint.
"The effort is there,'' Harris said. "We still have to get a little more productive as far as the technicalities at the position.''
Charge: The Vols' went through a physical drill where they took hard charges from teammates.
"It's one of our best drills because it requires the guys to step it up,'' Harris said.
Maymon, 6-foot-7 and 252 pounds, said he enjoyed the drill.
"It was like a football practice in here,'' Maymon said. "The first time I took one from (redshirt junior) Rob Murphy, it knocked the wind out of me. I was ready the next few times.''
Martin said there's a method to the madness.
"It's a toughness drill,'' he said. "But you're also teaching them to protect themselves, brace themselves and be ready to take the hit.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32