Wayne's a wonder

All of Tennessee's basketball coaches realized in preseason drills just how good 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman Wayne Chism could be. Now, four months later, Chism appears to be realizing it, as well.

Consider what Wayne Chism has accomplished in his last three games:

- Scored a career-high 19 points going against Florida's 6-11, 230-pound Joakim Noah and 6-10, 245-pound Al Horford, two future first-round NBA Draft picks.

- Limited 6-9, 290-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis, the 2005-06 SEC Player of the Year from LSU, to 2-of-10 shooting and a season-low 5 points.

- Hit 3 of 5 shots from 3-point range, with two highlight-reel dunks, en route to a 17-point, 12-rebound performance against No. 23 Vanderbilt.

"I think he's getting better and better," Vol junior Jordan Howell said of Chism. "He always had the talent but I think he's realizing, 'I can do this against SEC players night in and night out ... I'm as good as everybody else.'

"I think he knows he can play great."

You can be sure Vanderbilt knows it. Chism dominated the Commodores at times. He nailed two of his 3-pointers in a 13-0 Vol run to open the game and later added the two dunks and another trey in a 12-1 run that sealed Saturday's 84-57 romp.

"He carried us on his back to start the game, and there was a stretch in the second half when he did the same thing," Howell said. "He just took over. He was The Man."

On his final dunk Chism lunged to reel in a pass, then spun in mid-air and rammed the ball through the hoop as he was tumbling out of bounds. The sheer athleticism of the play brought fans to their feet and left teammates shaking their heads in disbelief.

"That was amazing," Howell said. "I've never seen anything like it. He had to reach and catch it, then turn and dunk. It was just amazing."

Chism, who leads all SEC rookies with 5.6 rebounds per game, was tabbed Freshman of the Week for his play against LSU and Vanderbilt. Though pleased with his recent improvement, the Bolivar native is more inclined to talk about the progress made by all of UT's first-year players.

"It's coming to all the freshmen," he said. "When the year's over we're starting another year. We ain't freshmen no more. We're going into our sophomore year, so we're stepping up more and having more confidence."

Although Tennessee's rookies played well overall, there were a few moments when they resembled ... well, rookies. Chism got a technical foul for a comment he made to a Vanderbilt player. Duke Crews was whistled for an intentional foul after elbowing one of the Commodores.

"There's a lot more happens off the ball – verbally and physically," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said. "Cagey veterans handle that stuff better. Our young guys are learning and, unfortunately, they're learning the hard way."

Whereas Chism's technical foul seemed to motivate him, Crews' intentional foul seemed to adversely affect his performance. He finished with just 4 points, 1 rebound, 4 fouls and 3 turnovers in 13 lackluster minutes.

"Duke was upset because he didn't play well," Pearl said. "He didn't play as well as he knows he's capable of. He turned it over a few times, and he was very upset. That's part of being young, though."

Enthusiasm is part of being young, as well, and Tennessee's youthful enthusiasm was unmistakable against Vandy. After racing to their 13-0 lead, the Vols expanded it to 22-4 and never looked back.

"It was pretty big," Chism said of the blazing beginning. "If we ever start off like that again I don't see nobody can really beat us."

Fast starts almost always lead to lulls but not this time. Tennessee never lost its focus or its energy, which kept Vanderbilt from mounting any kind of meaningful comeback. In fact, the lead just kept growing and growing.

"We kept on pushing and being aggressive on defense," Chism said. "And that's what made it go up like that."

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