Chicken bucket

When Pat Summitt is your mother and Bruce Pearl is your coach, you tend to be fearless. Today, however, Tyler Summitt and the word "chicken" are indelibly linked.

In a good way, though.

Knoxville-area Hardee's locations provide each Vol ticket-holder with a free chicken-tenders dinner whenever Tennessee scores 85 or more points in a home-floor victory. Tuesday night, with the Vols leading Middle Tennessee 83-54, Tyler drained a 3-pointer from the left corner with 29 seconds left that pushed the point total to 86 and caused what was left of the sparse crowd to erupt. The one-in-a-million shot actually glanced off the side of the backboard - altering its direction and trajectory - before swishing through the hoop.

Asked afterward if he knew what was at stake when he launched the fateful jump shot, young Summitt smiled and shook his head.

"I had no clue," he said. "At first I heard everybody screaming, and I thought it was for me. Then I realized they just wanted the chicken."

As the son of the Lady Vols' legendary coach, Tyler is a crowd favorite who is saluted each time he takes the floor. Tuesday night's cheer was even louder than usual.

"I don't know if it was for the chicken or for me," he said. "We'll never know. Maybe I can go get a ticket off of somebody and get myself some chicken."

Perhaps realizing that would violate the NCAA's "extra benefits" rule, he quickly added: "Nah, it's great to just go out there and have fun."

Pearl certainly had some fun with the situation, mentioning the chicken bucket during his post-game news conference.

"Probably the most effective 3 of the night was Tyler Summitt's bank from the corner," the Vol coach said. "I don't know that he could do that again if he tried. But the key to that shot was that everybody gets to eat the chicken at Hardee's tomorrow."

Summitt entered Tuesday's game with 1:42 remaining, knowing his scholarship teammates would try to create a shot for him or fellow walk-on Mike Hubert.

"Oh, my gosh! Me and Mike go in and we don't know who's going to get the shot," Summitt recalled. "Props to Steven Pearl for getting the assist tonight like he did in the Brevard game when I hit it there. Coach's son to coach's son ... there must be some chemistry there."

Counting the exhibition game against Brevard, Tyler Summitt is 2 for 2 on 3-pointers this season. Asked if he's going to lobby for increased playing time, he flashed a big grin and replied:

"Coach Pearl texted me after the Brevard game and said, 'One for one. I need to get you the ball more.' We'll see what he says this time."

Tyler's dream growing up was to play for Tennessee but that dream took quite a hit when he was cut from the Webb Middle School basketball squad as a sixth-grader. Crushed, he had a basketball under each arm and tears running down his cheeks when Pat arrived home that evening. He'll never forget the advice his mom gave him.

"She said, 'If you wear out these two basketballs, you will make the team next year.' She always told me to start my own engine. That has stuck with me ever since then."

He made the middle school team as a seventh-grader, then played varsity ball at Webb School before enrolling at Tennessee in the fall of 2009. After spending last winter serving as a practice player for the Lady Vols, he tried out for the men's team this fall and earned a roster spot as a walk-on.

Tyler hopes to follow his mom into the coaching ranks someday. Obviously, having learned the game from Pat Summitt and Bruce Pearl makes for an impressive resume.

"Yes, sir. And I'm hoping to go to another big school after this," he said. "Hopefully, that'll be three big coaches I'll be able to learn from and have on my resume."

Asked if he'll coach men or women, Tyler replied, "I don't know yet."

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