Ryan's ready

Given Tennessee's glaring lack of size and depth on the inside, Ryan Childress looms as a key figure for the 2006-07 Basketball Vols. That's why the 6-foot-9, 238-pounder's play vs. Tusculum last Friday was so encouraging.

The game was only an exhibition but Childress distinguished himself by recording 9 points and 9 rebounds. Best of all, he played 21 aggressive minutes without committing a foul.

"Twenty-one minutes with no fouls … that's probably a first," Vol coach Bruce Pearl quipped. "It's great to see. I'm happy for him."

Ryan Childress arrived on campus last year with very little quickness and even less finesse. He was a banger who performed reasonably well against pre-conference foes but could not hang with the athletic SEC post players UT faced. Thus, his playing time diminished significantly as the 2005-06 season progressed.

Now that he has lost some weight and gained some quickness, however, Childress may be able to provide valuable minutes as Dane Bradshaw's backup at power forward.

"I think you can see the improvement in Ryan Childress," Pearl said. "Ryan worked real hard and changed his body through diet and exercise. He's quicker and more agile, and he's playing with more confidence because he's able to move better. As a result, we've got some depth at the 4 position with Dane and with Ryan."

Because Buzz Peterson signees Matthew Dotson and Tyler Smith chose not to enroll at UT last season, Childress was the only scholarship freshman on the 2005-06 Vol squad. Pearl thinks that was a difficult situation to handle.

"Ryan came in last year as a freshman all by himself," the coach noted. "He had nobody to go through it with. This year's freshmen go through it together but Ryan was all by himself."

After being schooled by the quicker and more experienced SEC inside players he faced, Childress spent the off-season working hard to elevate his game.

"He didn't like the way he played. He knew he was better, and I knew he was better," Pearl said. "Rather than pouting about it, he figured a few things out. Troy Willis, our strength coach, has done a wonderful job helping him, and his hard work has paid off."

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