Dane's swan song nears

No player better typifies the end of the Buzz Peterson era than Dane Bradshaw. Likewise, no player better typifies the beginning of the Bruce Pearl era than Dane Bradshaw. It's strange but it's true.

Bradshaw's first two years at Tennessee – like Peterson's last two years – were confounding, disappointing and unproductive. He was a combo guard who lacked the quickness to play the point and lacked the outside shot to play the wing. Like Peterson, he was a nice guy who simply didn't seem to fit.

March, 2005: Exit Peterson, enter Pearl.

Pearl thinks outside the box – WAY outside the box. He decided to move the 6-4 Bradshaw to power forward. It was inspired madness. Suddenly, Bradshaw was in a position where HE was the quicker guy ... a position where hustle and toughness and savvy could offset some physical shortcomings.

As a result, Dane Bradshaw's last two years at Tennessee have paralleled Pearl's first two years – creative, tenacious and surprisingly successful.

Incredibly, the guy who was the poster boy for what was wrong under Peterson has become the face of the program under Pearl. Once the worst player on the team, Bradshaw is now the team MVP.

Yet, Bradshaw still can't hit a jump shot. After shooting just 41.7 percent as a freshman, 40.0 as a sophomore and 41.0 as a junior, he is shooting a mere 33.7 percent as a senior. He still can't hit a free throw, either. After shooting 58.5 percent as a freshman, 57.6 as a sophomore and 58.2 as a junior, he is hitting 55.7 as a senior.

Moreover, Bradshaw still isn't a scorer. After averaging 3.4 points per game as a freshman, 3.0 as a sophomore and 7.1 as a junior, he is averaging a mere 5.6 as a senior.

Odds are, Bradshaw is the most valuable 5.6 points-per-game scorer in all of college basketball. He may not light up the scoreboard but he does everything else. He leads the Vols in assists (134) by nearly 50 over his nearest challenger. He ranks second in steals (53), fourth in rebounds (118) and fourth in blocked shots (13).

Two attributes that don't show up in the stat sheet – teamwork and leadership – are Bradshaw's greatest strengths. That's why Sports Illustrated named him the captain of its "All-Glue Team." All Bradshaw does is hold the Vols together while others take care of the scoring.

Despite his shortcomings as a scorer, Bradshaw played a huge role in last year's SEC East title, No. 2 NCAA Tournament seeding and 22-8 finish. He has played a huge role in this year's 20-9 record, as well.

Ultimately, Dane Bradshaw has been a key figure in Tennessee's transformation from basketball graveyard to basketball hotbed in the past 24 months. Vol fans get a chance to express their appreciation prior to Tuesday night's game with Florida. Bradshaw will be the only player honored on "Senior Night," so the applause will be his and his alone.

"The fans should give Dane the same kind of send-off they do for other seniors, no more and no less," Pearl said. "That's the only way Dane would have it. But clearly, the seniors of last year and Dane this year have played a significant role in giving credibility to our basketball program.

"We are now relevant in competing for championships."

Dane Bradshaw has done a lot to help make Tennessee relevant again. That speaks volumes about a guy who shoots 33.7 percent and averages 5.6 points per game.

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