KNOXVILLE -- The smallest and largest players on the University of Tennessee men's basketball team were a nice combination throughout this summer's Pilot Rocky Top League, and Melvin Goins and Brian Williams said there was a reason for that.
"We're turning into leaders," said Goins, a 5-foot-11 point guard.
"It's our time," added Williams, a 6-foot-10 center.
The duo's DeRoyal team fell just short in Thursday night's championship game -- UT junior guard Scotty Hopson's late flurry was the difference -- but Goins missed much of the first half while finishing a summer-session final exam.
Goins and Williams will be seniors for the Volunteers this season -- probably the only seniors in the starting lineup -- and they have no intention of letting the team fall back from an NCAA tournament run that finished one point from the Final Four.
"We've got to get further than the Elite Eight," Williams said. "If we don't, it will be a disappointment to everybody. The Final Four was a second away. You never forget that."
"We lost three great seniors, but we brought in the right talent to help us move forward."
Goins echoed Williams' comments, albeit with a caveat.
"I honestly believe that anything but a Final Four would be a disappointment," Goins said. "But it's a process, just like last year. It's a grind. The young guys -- the whole team, really, has to understand that it's a process to get where we want to get."
Goins scored 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range in just 19 minutes to help the Vols beat first-round NCAA opponent San Diego State, and Williams averaged 7.5 points and 10.3 rebounds for the tournament.
"My confidence went through the roof in the tournament," Williams said. "I knew I wasn't coming out of the game, so I didn't have to worry about making mistakes, and my game just showed itself.
"People might not have thought I could play ball like that ... but I knew it."
Added Goins: "It was big-time for both me and Big Baby (Williams), for a lot of reasons."
In short, Goins, Williams and guard Cameron Tatum took big steps toward atonement for their embarrassing involvement in a midseason arrest following a traffic stop that uncovered two guns, a bag of marijuana and an open alcohol container.
Goins and Tatum missed more than two weeks of games, while Williams missed more than five weeks, because he took responsibility for the marijuana in the car. All-Southeastern Conference star Tyler Smith took responsibility for both weapons and was dismissed from the program, though he later claimed he bought the guns because of threats made to him and his son.
"Even though Coach (Bruce) Pearl gave me a second chance, I had to work hard to get back on the team," Williams said. "Just to get back on the team and get in the rotation, that was hard. But Coach gave me an opportunity, and I wanted to do that.
"I know I disappointed a lot of people last year, and I'm determined to keep bouncing back from that and proving myself."
Goins claimed to share those feelings, and part of his recovery has included offseason leadership.
"Honestly, I took it upon myself to become a leader and put myself in the leadership role as soon as the season was over," the San Diego native said. "That next week, I was right back at it and on my guys and getting after them, trying to schedule things for us to work. Hopefully I'm doing a good job.
"Right now we're working hard. It's been a good start."
Incoming UT freshman wing Jordan McRae -- an impressive, explosive, 6-6 athlete -- said he enjoyed playing with and learning from Goins and Williams on the DeRoyal team.
"Mel and Big Baby are helping me out all the time with stuff I don't know," McRae said. "Things are coming along good ... and those guys are a big reason for that. They've really been there for me."
That was the plan, Goins said.
"I'm a senior now, and I'm going to be one of the leaders on this team, and it just feels great to have great talent coming in and have a chance to work with them and put them under my wing," he said. "We lost a lot last year, obviously, but I feel like we're reloading and we're just going to keep on going."
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