Dane's leadership, humor will be missed

Tennessee fans appreciated Dane Bradshaw on the basketball court. They can appreciate him almost as much behind a mike. Bradshaw, a communications major, has made the radio rounds in recent weeks in Knoxville. He's clever, articulate and self-deprecating.

What more could you ask?

Once you're around the former Vol, it's easy to see why Bruce Pearl fell in love with the man of limited skills but unlimited leadership qualities.

Bradshaw was the ultimate team guy. He played point guard as a freshman and sophomore, and power forward as a junior and senior under Pearl. He was an undersized 6-foot-4 player with a big heart and unrelenting determination.

And that sense of humor.

Asked if his shoulder affected his shooting, Bradshaw says: ``Yea, but I was missing shots before I hurt my shoulder.''

Asked about Florida fans berating him with chants that his sister, Brittany, was a better player, Bradshaw says: ``My sister would almost argue for the Florida fans. She wasn't even on my side that game. She was cheering for them.''

Asked what his free throw shooting percentage was in high school, Bradshaw says: ``I struggled then like I struggled here.''

While honored that Pearl endowed a scholarship in his name, Bradshaw jabbed Pearl, saying the coach would probably make the first recipient his son, Steven Pearl.

Asked about similarities between his game and that of Ryan Childress, Bradshaw says: ``That's my guy but I don't want to draw any comparisons to him. He's a little crazy up in the head.''

You've gotta like a guy who can laugh at himself. You've gotta like a guy who looks like an Average Joe, yet plays with passion and a high basketball IQ in helping his team win the SEC East Division one year and reach the Sweet 16 the next.

As you might expect, Bradshaw gives most of the credit for his development to Pearl, who had the wisdom to stick Bradshaw inside, knowing Dane didn't have the quickness to play point guard or the shooting ability to play off guard.

Bradshaw thrived, in part because he was an excellent interior passer and he could create shots for his teammates.

Bradshaw was asked to use one word to describe his first two years at Tennessee: ``Insignificant.''

What about his last two years? ``Significant.''

He was significant in Pearl's system, insignificant in Buzz Peterson's.

He went from a career of little note to a UT hero – and that's no exaggeration.

``There was fear I was going to float through my four years and be a name not to remember, not leave any type legacy behind,'' Bradshaw said. ``I'm not saying that I have, but because of the turnaround, I feel like I'm a part of it and I'll be a player that's remembered because of how special the turnaround was.''

Bradshaw said UT had other good players, like a Brandon Crump, who came in at the wrong time and didn't benefit from playing in a successful program.

``Timing is everything,'' Bradshaw said.

When Pearl approached Bradshaw about moving to power forward, Bradshaw was agreeable because he wanted playing time. Then, he realized he would have to guard guys like LSU's Glen Davis, Florida's Joakim Noah and Al Horford, Alabama's Jermareo Davidson and Kentucky's Randolph Morris.

Bradshaw said the transition was made easier because, at 6-3 in high school, he often was asked to play inside since he was one of the team's tallest players.

``But, of course, nothing could prepare me for Glen Davis or Noah,'' he said.

Bradshaw has the utmost respect for Pearl, who not only endowed the scholarship in Dane's name, but found a position at which Bradshaw could succeed.

Bradshaw said the scholarship was a tremendous honor for him but a compliment to Pearl's generosity.

``He never asks anyone to do anything he wouldn't do,'' Bradshaw said. ``When he tells us to get up at 6 a.m. to lift weights, he's there with us. When he asks donors to donate a certain amount of money, he just showed he's willing to do it himself.''

Speaking of lifting weights, Bradshaw said Pearl was the strongest man on the team when the team first began lifting weights under his tutelage. It helped that Pearl has short arms and a barrel chest, Bradshaw said. But Pearl would do more bench press reps of 185 than any Vol.

Pearl can identify roles for players, he improves them, he can design inbounds plays, he can communicate, he can motivate and promote. What is his best asset?

``Getting the best out of each individual,'' Bradshaw said. ``He's not going to treat you equally but he's going to treat you fairly. It's not his decision on playing time. It's your decision. It's what you show him. So you reap what you sow.

``On the court, he does a phenomenal job of exposing your strengths and hiding your weaknesses. He doesn't ask anyone to do what they can't do.''

Bradshaw is a shining example. He wasn't asked to defend cat-quick point guards, drill 3-point shots, or handle the ball against full-court pressure. He was asked to battle inside against taller players, box out on rebounds, penetrate and dish, and be a leader.

His style of play was a lightning rod for opposing fans – and he was thick-skinned enough to handle it.

``I've enjoyed it,'' he said. ``It's been funny. As great as Senior Night was for me, I went on the road to Georgia for my last regular-season game and they were chanting all these things at me. I was like, `What am I going to miss more, the boos or the cheers?' I was really having a Senior Night on the road.''

While Bradshaw was often called the heart and soul of the team, he thinks the best is yet to come for the Vols. And he thinks it will come quickly. He thinks next year's team has Final Four capabilities.

``I see great potential and I think everyone should be excited,'' said Bradshaw, the lone senior on last season's team. ``We have Chris Lofton as the star All-American. You almost wonder if this is the year to really get things going. I think the pieces are there and it's their last opportunity to play with Chris Lofton. I think everyone needs to take advantage of that.

``And we always talk about how players improve. But the coaching staff improves as much as anybody. They focus on what things they could have done better the year before.

``So when you put all that together, look for great things to happen.''

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