"He's playing as many minutes as he can play out there," head coach Bruce Pearl says. "As for tolerating pain ... I think it's just a matter of when it affects his performance. It hasn't affected him (thus far) too badly."
Hampered by tendinitis in both shoulders, Dane Bradshaw is hitting 43 percent from the floor, 50 percent from the foul line and 26 percent from 3-point range this season. He averages a modest 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game but leads the team in assists (46), steals (27) and blocked shots (10).
The 6-4 senior's condition worsened in the past week, however, causing the pain to increase and his production to decrease in Games 10 and 11. He recorded a mere 7 points and 4 rebounds the past two games combined, hitting 38 percent (5 of 13) from the floor, 50 percent (3 of 6) from the foul line and 0 percent (0 of 2) from 3-point range.
What Bradshaw cannot provide in terms of points and rebounds, he offsets with hustle, savvy and leadership. His determination is an inspiration to teammates. Even if the MRI exams had revealed significant deterioration in his shoulders, he was not going to take a seat on the bench.
"No matter what, I was going to finish out the season," he says. "It's different when you're a senior. When you're a freshman that might be a different story. But when you're heading into your final half a season nothing's going to really keep you out of there."
Playing through obvious pain, Bradshaw tipped in the winning basket with 1.9 seconds left in Monday night's 79-77 upset of No. 14 Oklahoma State, then underwent the MRI exams the following morning. As he waited anxiously for the results, Vol fans rallied around him. Many offered prayers. Some delivered encouragement via phone calls, emails or cards. He was deeply touched by the outpouring of support.
"I really was," he says. "It was unbelievable. I think that has a lot to do with the big win that we had.... Trust me, I've got plenty of siblings telling me I'm not that big a deal and they (fans) shouldn't be that concerned."
That's a typical Bradshaw comment. Seemingly devoid of ego, he never takes himself too seriously. He even suggests he was glad the examinations revealed some tendinitis in his shoulders.
As he puts it: "With all of that attention, I went through the MRIs thinking, ‘Well, they better find SOMETHING here.' With everybody saying, ‘Good luck, I know you're playing hurt,' I was like ‘Wow! I hope I can show proof that I am.'"