UT moving 'forward'

There was no reason to believe Tennessee's basketball team would be adequate at the forward spots this season. None.

Consider the 2004-05 stats of the projected starters Dane Bradshaw and Stanley Asumnu:

Bradshaw averaged 17.4 minutes per game last year, Asumnu 8.2. Bradshaw averaged 3.0 points per game, Asumnu 2.4. Bradshaw averaged 2.3 rebounds per game, Asumnu 1.0. Bradshaw shot 40 percent from the field, 26 percent from 3-point range and 58 percent from the foul line. Asumnu checked in at 39, 25 and 44, respectively. Throw in the fact Bradshaw would be playing power forward at 6-feet-4, and there was absolutely no reason for optimism. None.

Now there is.

Asumnu scored 19 points in the Vols' final exhibition game and, despite playing just 21 minutes due to cramping, scored 18 more in Friday's 106-83 regular-season defeat of ETSU. Remarkably efficient, he hit 8 of 11 from the field and committed just one turnover. Meanwhile, Bradshaw recorded 12 rebounds and six assists in the final tune-up, then matched those numbers in Game 1, tossing in a career-high 13 points for good measure. He also played solid post defense, recording three steals.

Naturally, Bruce Pearl was ecstatic.

"Stanley … what a wonderful night," the first-year Vol coach said. "He was so productive in such a short period of time.

"I like those guys out there. They're such good kids to root for. Everybody in the building was happy to see them out there playing and shooting and being a big part of the team. There are going to be nights when Bradshaw is going to be overwhelmed physically inside but Stanley's not going to get overwhelmed physically. He's really, really playing productively."

Senior point guard C.J. Watson also is thrilled with the strong play of Bradshaw and Asumnu.

"I think Dane and Stanley have made the biggest improvement, especially Dane playing the 4," Watson said. "He's getting open shots because he can drive past any 4 man trying to guard him. He's taken this offense and making it work for him.

"Stanley's got more confidence in the new coach. It's his tempo, run and gun. Stan's athletic, he can run and he can defend. That's what Coach Pearl's system is all about."

Still, the biggest surprise to date has been Bradshaw's rebounding prowess. How goes a 6-4, 200-pounder grab 12 rebounds in the land of the giants?

"I've done a good job boxing out, holding my position and timing my jump," he said. "I'm not going to out-jump the guys down there and I'm sure not going to reach up for it (over taller foes). I'm just having good patience with my box-outs."

Defensively, Bradshaw is offsetting his disadvantage in height by exploiting his advantage in quickness.

"We've tried to use it to our advantage, rather than making it a mismatch problem for us," he said. "At one point I was guarding (6-7, 265-pound ETSU post Dillion) Sneed and I think I did a good job. I think he was bothered by me getting in front and getting a hand in there."

Asumnu insists he hasn't changed his game. He says the change in tempo simply has enabled him to showcase talents that were not utilized by the previous coaching regime.

"This is me," he said, grinning broadly. "The previous couple of years wasn't me. Now you all are getting to really see who I am and what I'm capable of doing.

"I just thank God for every opportunity He has given me. Everything's working out well. I'm excited to have Coach Pearl here and excited to have this time with my teammates."

And, no doubt, he's excited to be part of the most surprising forward duo in college basketball.

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