Dane's on a roll

He's a white guy playing a game dominated by black guys. He's a 6-4 inside player competing against giants. These factors make Dane Bradshaw an unlikely hero for Tennessee's Basketball Vols, yet his recent performances have been downright heroic.

Consider:

He has played 150 minutes the past six games without committing a turnover.

He posted a career-high 14 points last Sunday at South Carolina, draining a game-clinching 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining.

He has recorded a team-high 47 assists, including 6 in just 16 minutes against Alabama A&M.

He has had two double-digit rebounding games (12 vs. ETSU, 10 vs. Appalachian State) and leads the Vols with a 6.1 per-game average.

He has nailed three of his last five 3-point tries, after making just four of his first 20.

He has recorded 22 steals, just five off the team lead, despite playing close to the basket.

No Vol has done more with less raw ability than Dane Bradshaw, yet head coach Bruce Pearl refuses to characterize his 6-4 junior power forward as an overachiever.

"One thing I will not say is that Dane overachieves," Pearl said. "That sort of sets a bar at a certain point and you're saying he's playing above that. When you play as well as he's played with the consistency he's played at, it's not about overachieving. If he's maximizing his abilities in some ways, that's fine. That's what every player should try to do."

Not all of Bradshaw's contributions show up in a box score. For instance, he probably leads the Vols in charges drawn and loose balls corralled. He's also a surprisingly effective post defender. Playing scrappy and smart, he limited South Carolina's 6-9 Renaldo Balkman to eight points last Sunday. That didn't surprise Pearl, though.

"I'm not going to let him bail out because he's 6-4," the coach said. "That's how he plays all the time."

Bradshaw seems to relish guarding bigger men, especially when he's using his quickness and determination to annoy them.

"I just front the post and try to nag the offensive opponent," he said. "The big guys can get real frustrated because they'd much rather have someone play behind them, to where they can post up on the block and make their move."

Although Bradshaw's ability to handle bigger foes is significant, his ability to handle the basketball may be even more crucial for the Vols.

"Dane gives us another ball-handler on the floor," Pearl noted. "That's why our turnovers are so low. We've got two point guards out there – one (C.J. Watson) who covers on the perimeter and one (Bradshaw) who covers inside."

Bradshaw sums up his role this way:

"I'm a point guard playing a kind of trailer position. That kind of lets the game come to me. I can relax, reverse the ball and find the open man, rather than trying to break pressure all the time and break guys down. C.J.'s doing that."

Bradshaw was the Gatorade High School Player of the Year as a senior at White Station of Memphis, despite a mediocre jump shot. He has worked hard to improve it since signing with Tennessee, and he finally saw some dividends at South Carolina – hitting 6 of 11 attempts.

"I've gotten extra shots for the past few years now; I've just been waiting to see some results," he said. "This was just one game but it was definitely a game that has put me in the right direction and given me more confidence in my shot. And that's a big factor as a shooter."

Tennessee already leads the SEC in scoring but Pearl believes improved shooting by Bradshaw will make the Vols even more dangerous.

"As I've said all along, just wait until he starts to shoot the basketball and see how much better we can be offensively," the coach said. "I know that puts pressure on him but recently he has (shot well). There's been a lot of time in the gym, a lot of extra shots."

Tennessee fans have begun to identify with Bradshaw because he hustles and makes the most of his ability. Pearl seems to identify with him, too.

"I'm really happy with Dane, happy with his personality," the Vol coach said. "I'm glad people are able to look at my basketball team and see him out there. If it's any reflection on me, that's a great compliment."

Of course, that doesn't mean Pearl will be looking to sign another 6-4 power forward anytime soon. But you never know.

"Dane is a tough match-up for people because he plays well for his size and is hard to defend," Pearl said earlier this season. "I like for him to be on the floor. On the way back from Texas, I told our coaches that in recruiting, a 6-4 power forward is not exactly what we are dying to go after.

"But keep in mind what Dane means to us, and maybe we can go out and recruit another Dane Bradshaw."


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