Big man on campus

Eighteen games into the season, most of the questions fans were asking about the 2005-06 Tennessee basketball team have been answered:

Yes, C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton are the best guard tandem in the SEC.

Yes, Dane Bradshaw can play power forward effectively at 6-feet-4.

Yes, Andre Patterson can provide much-need inside scoring and rebounding.

Yes, JaJuan Smith and Stanley Asumnu can play under control.

Only one question lingers: Will Major Wingate show up or not?

Wingate was a virtual no-show in Games 15, 16 and 17 against Florida (7 points, 2 rebounds), Mississippi State (8 points, 4 rebounds) and South Carolina (6 points, 5 rebounds). The 6-10, 250-pounder awoke from his doldrums, however, with a superior outing against Vanderbilt. Hitting five of six from the floor and six of eight from the foul line, Wingate scored 16 points. He recorded 14 of these in the second half, despite playing just 11 minutes.

"Major really can score inside," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "With the exception of (LSU's Glen) Davis, he's bigger than anybody we've played so far."

That's true. And when Wingate plays up to his size, he can be a force.

"Major played huge in the second half," Bradshaw said. "Once he gets a dunk or an and-one basket he can really feed off the crowd. When he gets in a zone he can play to his fullest potential."

That's the rub, though. Wingate seldom plays to his fullest potential. He isn't lazy. He's just unselfish to the extreme. He's more concerned with setting up teammates than with scoring himself.

"I was really concentrating on getting Chris and C.J. started," he said of his performance against Vandy. "With them going, we're practically unbeatable. That was my main concentration."

What Wingate fails to realize is that the best thing he can do for Lofton and Watson is attack the basket so that opponents will crowd him, creating more room for his perimeter pals. When Wingate is flexing his muscles inside, things get a lot easier for Lofton and Watson on the outisde.

"It makes a big difference," Watson said. "It opens things up for me and Chris on the perimeter, it gives him more confidence and it gives Coach more freedom to call some plays for him."

Despite his size, Wingate is not an effective rebounder. Pearl nearly pulled him from the lineup in the final minutes of the Vanderbilt game for that very reason but decided against it.

"It almost cost us," Pearl noted, "but he was obviously determined offensively and he scored some big baskets late."

Asked what happened to make him suddenly awaken after sleep-walking through the previous three games, Wingate smiled sheepishly and replied: "I tried to get it going because I'd had a few rough games. Coach told me was going to come to me early, so I just made a few baskets."

If the biggest Vol can continue making "a few baskets" each game, there's no telling how far this Tennessee team can go.


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