"He's one of the greatest players to play the game," Crews said. "To do what he did here, then go to the NBA and do what he did there, I was honored just to be here to see it."
No wonder. King, a three-time All-American and three-time SEC Player of the Year, averaged 25.8 points and 13.2 rebounds for his UT career. He skipped his senior year in favor of the NBA, where he averaged 22.5 points per game over the course of a 14-year career. He led all NBA scorers (32.9 ppg) in 1985 and earned all-star recognition four times.
King wasn't the only ex-Vol who spurred Crews on Tuesday night, however. Ernie Grunfeld, the other half of the "Ernie & Bernie Show," provided some motivation, too. Now president of operations for the NBA's Washington Wizards, Grunfeld held a training camp in Crews' hometown of Norfolk last year, so the UT rookie wanted to make a favorable impression.
"I don't think it's any coincidence that Duke played one of his best games with Ernie in the house," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "He asked me before the game, ‘Is Ernie coming?'"
Like most college freshmen, the 6-foot-7 Crews has endured an erratic rookie season. He posted double-digit scoring totals in 10 of Tennessee's first 16 games, then did so just once in the next nine outings. His confidence appeared to slip a bit during the drought but he insists that was not the case.
"I never lost confidence," he said. "I forced a whole lot of things I shouldn't have forced. I was in a little slump and tried to get it all back at one time, instead of letting the game come to me."
The development of Crews and 6-foot-9 fellow freshman Wayne Chism into SEC-caliber players has significantly elevated Tennessee's level of play the past two weeks. They are no longer playing like freshmen.
"I realized I wasn't a freshman here a long time ago," Crews said with a chuckle. "As soon as the SEC started it got real physical, so you had to man up."
With the Vols (18-8 overall, 6-5 SEC) fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid, Tennessee desperately needs its rookies to play with confidence and poise. Crews understands this.
"This is a crucial time in our season," he said. "It's do or die now.
Crews basically splits playing time with Chism, who chipped in 16 points in the win over Kentucky. Chism is on a nice roll, scoring 19 points at Florida, 6 vs. LSU, 17 vs. Vanderbilt and 16 vs. Kentucky in his last four outings.
"Every time I play well," he said, "it's going to carry on into the next game."
After their big games against Kentucky, Crews and Chism now must show they can be consistently productive in the Vols' remaining games.
"We had 34 points in the post, between Duke Crews and Wayne Chism," Pearl noted. "But now we have to handle success. We'll talk about that as a team. How are we going to handle success?"