Forward to return to Tennessee for junior season

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tyler Smith is returning to Tennessee for his junior season, hoping to improve his NBA draft prospects for next year.

The 6-foot-7 forward scored 13.5 points a game and led the 31-win Volunteers in rebounds and assists last season. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said Smith would have faced tough competition in the draft against 38 other underclassmen.

"I have come to the conclusion that I want to be a Volunteer next year," Smith said. "Coming back wasn't really a big problem because, I mean, I am here. I am home. I am with my family and I am really enjoying college life."

Pearl is excited to have him coming back and says Smith will take on more of a leadership role with the departure of seniors Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith.

"I told Tyler, 'Tyler, we are going to be good without you. Don't do this for us,'" Pearl said.

But the coach conceded: "Can we be championship-good without Tyler? It would be more difficult."

Next season's team will add newly signed McDonald's All-American Scotty Hopson and redshirt freshman guard Cameron Tatum, back from a knee injury. But with Lofton and JaJuan Smith gone, new leaders will have to be found -- both on and off the court.

"Tyler will be our leader now. This is going to be his team," Pearl said. "He has to buck it up, suck it up and be a pro while he is still in college."