Even in Turkey, Tyler Smith has heard what the people in Tennessee are saying about him.
|Tennessee-Michigan State video|
Tournament blog: Cobbling together a victory
|More regional coverage:
East | West | Midwest | South
If the Volunteers were better without him as they advanced further in the NCAA tournament than any Tennessee squad before, then Smith is happy how things turned out.
"I know they are hearing a lot of stuff about how better they are off without me, and I just tell them if that what it really was then I am happy for them and for the fans to get to see them accomplish so much this year," Smith wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press on Sunday.
Smith watched every Tennessee tournament game either online or on TV at a nearby Army base -- and sometimes in the middle of the night -- in between his workouts and games for Bornova in the Turkish Basketball League.
His computer has become his best friend in Turkey as he trades e-mails and instant messages with his former teammates, encouraging and congratulating them.
Smith was Tennessee's captain before he was arrested during a traffic stop Jan. 1. The star forward, center Brian Williams and guards Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins were accused of a host of misdemeanor gun, drug and alcohol charges.
"I think it was a mistake -- my players being in the wrong place at the wrong time," senior center Wayne Chism said. "They learned from their mistakes."
The other three were suspended for a few games. Williams pleaded guilty to drug possession, Tatum pleaded guilty to speeding and all charges were dropped against Goins.
Coach Bruce Pearl dismissed Smith on Jan. 8 after learning the illegally altered guns found in the car belonged to the senior. Smith pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and possession of firearm with altered serial number and was sentenced to two years of judicial diversion.
Without Smith, Tennessee upset No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky and reached the NCAA round of 16 for the sixth time in school history. The Vols advanced to their first regional final with a 76-73 victory over Ohio State, but lost to Michigan State 70-69 on Sunday.
"I am just happy they are getting to do those things and witness something that nobody has ever done in a Tennessee uniform," Smith said.
He signed a two-month contract to play for Bornova early in March, hoping to make some money to help support his son, Amare, and hone his skills in advance of the June 24 NBA Draft.
Bornova is fighting for a spot in the playoffs with five games left in the season, and Smith is enjoying just getting to play ball.
"Very physical, but the atmosphere and the energy of each and every game is amazing," he said. "The fans are so rowdy here, and I love that they are very passionate about their teams."