The NCAA on Friday granted an eligibility waiver to former Iowa forward Tyler Smith, making him available to play at Tennessee this coming season.
Smith, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore, left Iowa shortly after former coach Steve Alford bolted for New Mexico. Smith was released from his scholarship by the Hawkeyes in April and then enrolled at Tennessee for summer school. If Smith hadn't been granted the waiver by the NCAA's administrative review subcommittee, he would have had to sit out the 2007-08 season under transfer rules.
Smith, a native of Pulaski, Tenn., sought the waiver because he wanted to return to his native state to be closer to his father, Billy, who suffers from lung cancer.
Smith will have three years of eligiblity to play for the Vols.
"This is really good news for Tyler, his family and the Tennessee basketball program," Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl said in a statement released by the school Friday. "I am pleased to see the process work and I believed all along that granting the waiver was the right decision. I am looking forward to Tyler contributing to the team next year and I'm pleased that his dad will have an opportunity to watch him play in a Tennessee uniform."
The addition of Smith further strengthens a Tennessee team that already would have been favored to win the SEC this coming season. Smith was a third-team All-Big Ten Conference selection after a stellar freshman campaign last season. He averaged 14.9 points and led the Hawkeyes with 4.9 rebounds per game. Smith was also second on the team with 111 assists.
Smith scored 33 points recently in a game in the Pilot Rocky Top Summer League, which includes current and former Volunteers players such as Ron Slay and Vincent Yarbrough.
"I knew coming in that we already had very talented players all the way around," Smith told reporters in Knoxville, Tenn., earlier this week. "I'm talking 10, 11 deep. Having played with them in open gym, it feels good to be around players like that. And it feels good being here, back home, and knowing that Tennessee has a chance to play with anybody."
The Volunteers return their top six scorers from last season's team, which finished 24-11 and lost to Ohio State in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard C.J. Lofton was the SEC's leading scorer with 20.8 points per game, and guards JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith each averaged more than 10 points.
Smith and Arizona transfer J.P. Prince, who sat out last season under NCAA rules, should bolster the Volunteers' front court. Prince, a cousin of Detroit Pistons star Tayshaun Prince, averaged two points and two rebounds in 28 games at Arizona in 2005-06.
Smith originally signed with the Volunteers out of high school but asked to be released from his scholarship when former coach Buzz Peterson was fired. At the time, Pearl refused to do it. Smith ended up failing to qualify academically, so his letter of intent with the Vols was nullified. After spending one season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, he qualified and signed with the Hawkeyes.
Smith said he and Pearl have worked out their differences from the past.
"Coach has told me since Day 1, since before everything happened, that his system would fit me great," Smith said. "I'm just glad to be back and be a part of that system now."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com.