Vols Enlist Major Duke Wayne

For a coach who loves his teams to be tough on the boards, bold in the paint and deadly accurate in big shootouts, could there be any better way to fill out your front line than by promoting Duke Wayne to the rank of Major?

Excuse the creative indulgence, but Major Duke Wayne is a good way to describe UT's future front court, and it pays homage to an enduring American icon and Hollywood's greatest leading man in the process.

Talk about confidence, swagger, valor and nerve, Duke Wayne was the quintessential action hero, swinging Old Betsy as Davey Crockett at battle of the Alamo, storming the beaches at Normandy or taming the wild west.

Big John wasn't ever called upon to rebound, shut down the baseline or post up in his movie career, but you got to figure he could do have. After all, he played football at USC and certainly had the essentials to be effective as a power forward — size, strength and single-minded determination.

Those are traits, along with depth, are what the Volunteers lacked up front in their first year under Bruce Pearl, but the addition to the lineup of freshman duo — Duke Crews and Wayne Chism — to go with battle-scarred senior center Major Wingate looks to be a winning combination. Clearly, Wingate's showing in UT's pair of NCAA Tournament contests did nothing to alter the image of an athletic, energetic, dynamic and photogenic front for the 2006-2007 season. Picture the Vols answering the opening horn with a 6-10, 250-pound center, a 6-9, 240-pound power forward and a 6-7, 230-pound small forward.

Pearl has no problem picturing the pairing of two rookies with a veteran post presence. Although it places added responsibility on Wingate to provide leadership it solves the riddle of match-up problems UT faced in the just completed season.

"Help is on the way as far as that's concerned," he said during his post game interview following the loss to Wichita State. "There wasn't a guy in the locker room more distraught than Major Wingate... I've been saying all along Major is a good defender and Major can score around the basket, and when we get him rebounding the ball better...

"You can't believe how quickly I can make this transition. I'm ready to go out and recruit and to build this team for next year. I'm there at next year. I'm there right now. The funny thing about Major is how I finally got him to stop crying and to laugh a little bit is I said: ‘Hey Major, you'll be the mother hen next year and there will be two or three little ducklings named Duke and Wayne, and you're going to bring to those guys along,' and Major started to laugh. Major is going to have a little more help on the front-line and we're going to build it around him a little bit."

Tennessee should be a much better rebounding team next season, even if Wingate is not better. He has size, strength and leaping ability, but corralling boards is as much about positioning, timing and reading ability. It is part art, part science, and while it doesn't necessarily require you to be the tallest or the strongest, it absolutely demands that you be in right place at the right time.

That's why somebody like 6-foot-3, 170-pound Lafayette "Fat" Lever, of the Denver Nuggets, could average 10 rebounds a game for consecutive seasons (1989, 1990). Lever knew how to read the ball coming out of the shooter's hands and used his quickness to obtain the angle needed to beat bigger, stronger players to the bounce. He also had exquisite timing and sure hands.

Neither Crew or Chism are Fat, but they are phat glass cleaners, possessing a lot of the characteristics that made Lever a standout. Plus, hey have the required qualities to be solid SEC rebounders, as well as, the acquired technique needed to hold their own in league board wars. Who knows? They may also inspire Major to reach new heights in the process, giving the Vols a formidable front court, and Coach Pearl the horses needed to make another run at the East Division title.

Hitch ‘em up, Pilgrim.

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