Rugged rotation

Just as two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two. Ask Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

Pearl got 18 points and 16 rebounds out of the center position in Tuesday night's 86-56 blowout of Middle Tennessee by rotating Brian Williams, John Fields and Kenny Hall. Alternating the trio ensured that neither fatigue nor fouls would become a problem.

Senior Williams finished with 6 points and 9 rebounds in 20 minutes; senior Fields with 4 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in 12 minutes; sophomore Hall with 8 points and 3 rebounds in 9 minutes.

In addition to keeping one another fresh and relatively foul-free, the three centers manage to complement one another beautifully. Williams is a 6-10, 270-pound space-eater who can be a beast on the boards. Fields (6-9, 240) is a superior shot-blocker. Hall (6-9, 225) brings more of a scoring mindset to the position.

"Brian and Kenny and John were all factors," Pearl noted following the MTSU game, adding that the three-man rotation "could be" permanent since "They've all had pretty good attitudes about it, and I think it keeps 'em all sharp."

In fact, the centers seem to have great attitudes toward the three-man tag-team approach.

"It's like a 1-2-3 punch, like a combo," Hall said. "When one gets tired, we just send another one at you. When he gets tired, we send another one at you. We've got each other to lean on.

"And you have 15 fouls to give, so we all go hard - balls to the wall."

Fields also relishes the three-man rotation, even though he never had to share playing time at his previous stops - East Carolina and UNC Wilmington.

"It helps just to have two other great players at the center position. Their success is my success," Fields said. "I played a lot of minutes losing on the lower level. To play with these two guys, as talented as they are, is fun. I think the rotation is working very well."

The rotation should work exceptionally well against teams that play one center pretty much the whole game. After all, three against one represents awfully good odds.

"We've got a live body on him (opposing center) all the time," Fields said, grinning broadly. "Nobody's tired. Everybody can bounce around, get tough offensive rebounds, make finishes. Nobody's tired, and it's working good."

Pearl historically plays one center approximately 25 minutes and a backup roughly 15. Given how close Williams, Fields and Hall are in terms of talent and productivity, however, the Vol coach may go with more of a 20-10-10 breakdown this season.

A Bronx native, Williams played exceptionally well vs. Virginia Commonwealth and Villanova in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament at New York City last week, then carried his momentum into the Middle Tennessee game.

"Brian came back and played well after being in New York," Pearl said. "That was important.

"John had five rebounds in 15 minutes against Villanova and had four rebounds (vs. Middle Tennessee) in 12 minutes, plus three blocked shots. He was very effective out there.

"And Kenny Hall has a knack for scoring. We might not beat Belmont without Kenny Hall. I believe he went 5 for 6 from the foul line."

Because center is the most physical and foul-prone position on the floor, having three capable players to share the workload is a real blessing. Pearl recognizes as much.

"You keep these guys in there when they're contributing, and they're important," he said. "We're going to have foul trouble at the 5 spot, and it's a nice luxury that all three of those kids can play."


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