Major looking to score

It happened dozens of times last basketball season: Tennessee's 6-foot-10, 250-pound Major Wingate would get the ball down low, and fans would scream "Shoot!" only to see him immediately pass the ball back to the perimeter. He was so passive on the offensive end of the floor that Tennessee essentially was playing four against five.

Those days, he insists, are long gone. Vol guards needn't expect return passes from him this year.

"They ain't really looking for kick-outs this year," he said with a laugh. "They already know I ain't looking to pass that much. Everybody knows I'm not going to force bad shots but the way I'm playing right now, any shot is a good shot."

With Brandon Crump out of eligibility, Jemere Hendrix dismissed and Andre Patterson suspended, Wingate is the Vols' only experienced post player. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is counting on him to have a breakout year.

"Major is critical, absolutely," the new head man said. "I'm very pleased with his progress. Major's another guy that is anxious to show how much he has improved. From what they tell me, this has been his best preseason. You'll see he's bigger and stronger."

Wingate's athleticism has never been questioned. He's big, strong, agile and knowledgeable. He never exploited these attributes during his two years playing for Buzz Peterson but Pearl is determined to change that. The new coach recently told Wingate he is "the biggest under-achiever I've ever seen." Clearly, Pearl is trying to awaken this sleeping giant.

"You can look at Major and see he's really athletic," the coach said. "Major knows how to move, knows how to get open. He understands the game a lot better than what I've seen on tape (suggests). A lot of it is how you use him. I've got to go to his strengths and hide his weaknesses."

Wingate has the tools to be a dominating force. He just needs the confidence to exploit his ability. Pearl is working hard to rebuild the big man's self-esteem.

"It feels good to have a coach that believes in me," Wingate said. "I ain't had that since I left high school it seems like. But since Day 1 Coach Pearl said I was going to be The Guy. And since Day 1 I've been working my ass off. He's been pushing me ever since."

Rather than spend the summer at his Florence, S.C., home, Wingate stayed on campus in June, July and August to hone his skills. Asked what specifically he did to fine-tune his game, he grinned broadly.

"Shoot and shoot and shoot," he said. "That's all we do, is shoot."

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