Wayne Chism clears the air

Wayne Chism's abrupt departure from Tennessee's bench during Wednesday's game at Vanderbilt sparked all sorts of speculation on Knoxville-area talk shows. One caller claimed the brief exodus was in response to a Commodore fan stationed near the UT bench using the "N word."

Meeting with the media at 6 p.m. today, Wayne Chism was eager to clear the air. The trouble was not some racist A-hole, although the source of his distress did start with an "A" … asthma.

"It's one of the hardest things I've got to deal with," said Chism, who has had the condition since childhood.

When he suffered an attack during the Vol-Vandy game, his breathing became so labored that he returned to the locker room to calm down. After he splashed some water on his face and rested for several minutes, his air intake return to normal, so he returned to the Vol bench.

Chism said the first sign of trouble occurred when his heart began "really pounding" as he was running down the floor. Moments later, sitting on the Vol bench, his chest began to hurt. The chest pain unnerved him a bit.

"I was just kind of frustrated, then my asthma kicked in," he said. "I had a hard time breathing, so I had to go in the locker room, cool off and get some more air. It was kind of hot in there (Memorial Gym). My adrenalin got high, it (asthma) flared up and I couldn't breathe."

Chism said he had a couple of asthmatic episodes during his days at Bolivar Central High School and "one or two" during UT practices this season.

Head coach Bruce Pearl said he didn't notice Chism leaving the bench during Wednesday night's game. After speaking with the player on Thursday, the coach offered his thoughts on the incident.

"He was frustrated," Pearl said. "I think the whole experience got him to the point where he got upset, then he got scared because he wasn't able to breathe.... I don't think he was gone more than a couple of minutes."

The coach said Chism's decision to leave the bench was "not a disciplinary issue" but added that he "would like for us to be calmer in those situations."

Pearl noted that Chism must "pace himself" because of his asthma, and that some observers misread this as "not playing hard" when he was in high school.

Asked whether Chism could play 35 minutes in a game if necessary, Pearl replied: "Right now he couldn't especially at the pace we're playing."

Chism said his frustration Wednesday night had nothing to do with anything yelled from the stands, calling the Vanderbilt crowd "all right." Pearl and senior captain Dane Bradshaw said they didn't hear any sort of racial epithet hurled at any of Tennessee's players.

Tennessee trailed for much of Wednesday night's game and ultimately lost 82-81, snapping a nine-game winning streak. Pearl thought that contributed to Chism's breathing problems. The coach dismissed suggestions that Chism was upset with his playing time or with the level of his play.

"He was playing fine," Pearl said. "But he probably wasn't happy with how things were going (in the game), and I'm sure that led to his distress."

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