- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Time as an AAU teammate with J.P. Prince taught Wayne Chism just what his fellow Tennessee native could do.

It was understood it was only a matter of time before the swingman would do some damage once he was eligible at Tennessee.

“I knew it was going to be a big difference in how we would play when he came in,” Chism said.

March only has amplified the sophomore’s influence on the second-seeded Volunteers (31-4), who meet No. 3 Louisville (26-8) in tonight’s NCAA tournament East Region semifinal at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

And it’s because of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl’s unorthodox move: Shifting the 6-foot-7 Prince, who earned SEC sixth man of the year honors, into the starting point guard position for Sunday’s second-round victory over Butler.

“I made the adjustment to put my best players on the floor,” Pearl said. “Is it difficult to do late in the season? Yeah. Is it difficult most of all to do it at that position because that’s your quarterback? Yes. But I am convinced if we don’t make some of those adjustments, we’re not here today.”

Pearl looked for a spark of any kind after watching senior Jordan Howell and sophomore Ramar Smith evenly split the starts in the Volunteers’ first 34 games. And so he turned to Prince, a Memphis native once considered one of the top point guard recruits in the country who veered away from his home state to play at Arizona.

Things didn’t go as planned. He was an end-of-the-rotation contributor as a freshman, then endured a health scare in April 2006 that ultimately led to an induced coma. He recovered in time to play at the start of the next season, but he decided to transfer by the end of the first semester.

“Arizona was so far away, my family didn’t get to see me play very much,” Prince said. “I didn’t have any relatives out there. That was a big thing with me. Out there at Arizona, I was pretty much by myself. How they do things out there and how we do things here are a lot different. It made me grow up a lot faster.”

It’s an experience Prince doesn’t regret, though he was eager to move on with his career. Shortly after deciding to leave Arizona, he received a call from Dane Bradshaw, a teammate at White Station High School who then played at Tennessee.

Bradshaw indicated Pearl was interested in bringing the one-time Tennessee Mr. Basketball back home. And shortly after the transfer was complete, his new teammates realized he would be an ideal player for the up-tempo Volunteers.

“J.P., he fits in perfect with this group,” guard Chris Lofton said. “He’s an athlete, 6-7, bouncy — it doesn’t get any better than that. As a point guard, he can do a lot of things.”

Tonight, he will be asked to handle the fullcourt pressure Louisville coach Rick Pitino is so fond of deploying. His height probably will help the Volunteers, though Pearl conceded anyone he tosses out at the point probably will struggle in some way.

Prince, like his teammates, brushed aside any concerns about Pearl’s postseason audible.

“The timing was weird for everybody [on the outside] — ‘Wow, he’ll tweak the team,’ ” Prince said. “But he’s a great coach, and we’re going to follow his lead and try to make the most of it.”

And that’s all Prince has done with his second chance since arriving in Knoxville.

“It’s just fun to finally get back to playing basketball and have your health and be pretty much be 100 percent,” Prince said.

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