KNOXVILLE -- Just one day after the Tennessee basketball program beamed with pride about the character and courage of Chris Lofton in his silent battle against cancer, the program was hit with a double dose of bad news.
Head coach Bruce Pearl announced the departures of sophomores Ramar Smith and Duke Crews.
"I am disappointed to announce that neither Duke Crews nor Ramar Smith will be a part of the 2008-09 University of Tennessee basketball program," Pearl said in a statement. "Both were provided every opportunity to succeed here, but have not met our expectations."
Immediate speculation centers on academics and/or substance abuse by both players.
Crews was suspended last summer after a failed drug test. Smith was involved in a peculiar incident in which he wrecked a friend's car but left the scene to go to the hospital before police arrived.
Smith also struggled to gain admission due to academics after signing with the Vols in the spring of 2006.
Both started and played extensively as freshmen in 2006-07, earning spots on the SEC's all-freshman team. However, their playing time diminished during their sophomore campaigns.
Crews missed over a month after a heart monitor exam revealed a condition that required treatment and threatened his career. Smith averaged 7.4 points per game, while Crews produced 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per outing.
Pearl added the dismissals are not related.
"With both Ramar and Duke, we came to the conclusion that it was in their best interest to transfer to another institution in order to continue their academic and basketball careers," added Pearl.
This spring, the Vols signed point guard Daniel West out of Michigan and also played J.P Prince at the point during the NCAA tournament.
Crews' minutes could be gained by rising senior Ryan Childress or signees Phillip Jurick and Renaldo Woolridge.
TENNESSEE BASKETBALL AWARDS
The University of Tennessee basketball team held its annual postseason awards banquet Thursday night at the Knoxville Marriott to honor one of the most successful teams in the 99-year history of the program.
The Vols posted a school-record number of wins, achieved the program’s first No. 1 national ranking, won their ninth overall Southeastern Conference title and then advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
Tennessee finished the season with a 31-5 overall record, easily breaking the previous school record of 26 wins in a season. The Vols’ 14 league wins are the school’s most since the SEC went to a 16-game schedule.
Bruce Pearl was named the league’s coach of the year and the Adolph Rupp National Coach of the Year, while Chris Lofton and Tyler Smith each earned first team All-SEC recognition. JaJuan Smith was a second team pick.
Lofton, a second team All-America selection for the second time in his career, finished his career third in NCAA history with 431 career 3-pointers and fourth in school history with 2,131 points.
Here is a rundown of the awards:
Burchfield-Moss Most Courageous Award: Tyler Smith
Lowell Blanchard Most Improved Award: Wayne Chism
Team Before Self: Chris Lofton
John Stucky Lifter of the Year Award: Jordan Howell and Chris Lofton
Thornton Athletics Student Life Center Awards, VOLScholar Individual Awards: Quinn Cannington, Ryan Childress, Wayne Chism, Rick Daniels-Mulholland, Jordan Howell, Justin Jackson, Steven Pearl, J.P. Prince, Tanner Wild and Brian Williams
VOLScholar Team Awards: Ryan Childress, Jordan Howell, Cameron Tatum, Justin Jackson, Quinn Cannington
Highest Fall Grade Point Average (Term): Tanner Wild and Jordan Howell
Highest Fall Grade Point Average (Cumulative): Quinn Cannington
Most Improved: Brian Williams
Best Attitude: Wayne Chism