'Major' contributor

Tennessee's biggest player could be the biggest key to the Vols' 2005-06 basketball season.

Major Wingate, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound junior center, is UT's only experienced post player now that Brandon Crump is out of eligibility and Jemere Hendrix is out of second chances. If the Vols are to have a decent inside game, Wingate must play much better than he did in two years under Buzz Peterson.

Wingate's ability has never been a problem. His motivation has been. He seemed to be going through the motions at times last season, which explains how a guy with so much size and talent could average just 5 points and 3 rebounds per game, while shooting a so-so 50 percent from the floor.

It appears that new coach Bruce Pearl has lit a fire under Wingate, however, and that could turn the gentle giant into a formidable force.

"One of the main things Coach said is that he didn't recruit none of us, so he didn't care who started," Wingate said recently. "That meant a lot to me. With Coach Peterson, you kind of knew he wanted C.J. (Watson), Scooter (McFadgon) and Brandon (Crump) on the court at all times."

Now that Pearl's in charge, no job is safe, including Wingate's.

"With Coach Pearl, everybody's out working hard because there ain't no telling who's going to be in the starting lineup," Wingate said. "He's got a rotation, and I've been out of it sometimes. He'll mix it up, and that makes everybody work so much harder."

The Vols were a listless lot in 2004-05 but that may be changing. Pearl's passion apparently has rubbed off on his troops.

"He earned our respect real quick," Wingate said. "He's always there for us, no matter what time it is. I've called him plenty of times at 3 o'clock in the morning, and he always answers the phone. We never really had that before. He's there for us, no matter what."

Early reports suggest Wingate has made vast improvement since last season. He says there's an easy explanation for that.

"I think the reason I had such a good improvement was because of Jemere," he said. "We stayed here all summer. He was taking classes; I just stayed here to work out and try my best to keep him out of trouble. We worked out together all the time. We pushed each other, and that's the reason I'm on top right now."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories