Tyler Smith will stay at Tennessee

Friday, April 25, 2008 at 1:03am

Tennessee sophomore forward Tyler Smith announced Thursday that he has decided not to declare for the NBA Draft and will return for his junior season at UT.

An Associated Press honorable mention All-America and a consensus first team All-Southeastern Conference selection, the 6-foot-7 Smith led the Vols in rebounding (6.7 rpg) and assists (3.4 apg) and ranked third on the team in scoring (13.6 ppg). Tennessee finished the season with a school record 31 wins and won its ninth SEC championship with a 14-2 league record.

“First and foremost, I would like to thank my family, (UT coach Bruce) Pearl, the rest of the coaching staff, my teammates and especially the Tennessee fans,” Smith said at a news conference in Thompson Boling Arena. “They have made my college experience everything it is supposed to be. I have been blessed with the opportunity to play basketball for this university.

“This past year has been very special for me. The way that my teammates and the community has supported me going through this hard time this past year after losing my father meant a lot to me. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to play in the NBA. Since the end of the season, coach Pearl, my mother and I have sat down to talk about my future. I came to the conclusion that I want to be a Volunteer next year.”

Pearl was obviously pleased with Smith’s decision to return.

“Tyler came back for a reason,” said Pearl. “A lot of why he came back was because of what he wanted to do individually, but also because of what he wanted the team to do. He will be the leader of our team now. This is going to be his team. Chris Lofton was inspirational to us because of how he trained so hard. Tyler will be an inspiration to us because of how hard he works and the type of person he is.”

UT lost star Chris Lofton and guard JaJuan Smith to graduation, but the Vols will return everyone else from their SEC title team. The Vols will also add 6-foot-7 guard Scotty Hopson, one of the top high school players in the country this season.

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