Pearl: SEC will be stronger in 2009-10

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Bruce Pearl says Tyler Smith's decision to return to Tennessee for his senior season should keep the Volunteers in the talk about the Southeastern Conference's top teams.

The coach said during a Monday teleconference he thinks the league has the potential to be much stronger during the 2009-10 season because of all the players like Smith who chose to return.

The SEC was dominated by talented underclassmen last season, and many of those players chose to return for another year. Only three SEC players were taken in Thursday's NBA draft.

Pearl says his players understand the entire SEC will be better this year and are working hard during the offseason to stay in shape and improve their games.

With leadership help from fellow seniors Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince, Josh Tabb and Bobby Maze, Pearl thinks Smith has a chance to shine.

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