Crews closer to playing

Duke Crews spent the past month having his heart tested. Now he's having his patience tested.

Crews, who hasn't played basketball for Tennessee since Dec. 4 at UT-Chattanooga because of a heart condition, was cleared by team doctors to return to practice late last week. Still, he sat out Saturday's game with Ohio State and may sit out Tuesday night's game at Kentucky, as well.

Following Saturday's 74-69 defeat of Ohio State, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said Duke Crews is "available" but pointed out that the 6-7, 233-pound sophomore needs time to work his way back into playing shape.

"Understand that when you come back from an injury, prior to playing you're on the bike," Pearl noted. "You're running some stairs. The trainer has you doing some slides. You're getting cardio (cardio-vascular work).

"Duke had done nothing for over a month, so it's going to take him a little while to get in some basketball shape."

In addition, Crews must shed some of the rust he accumulated during his lengthy layoff before returning to game action.

"When Duke comes back to us, he's another guy that our team has confidence in," Pearl said. "But I don't want to bring Duke back too soon, where he's not able to uphold his own teammates' high standards. I want to put him in position to be successful.

"It has nothing to do with his (heart) condition. He's fine. We're just getting him up to speed."

Crews was understandably eager to resume practice. He's even more eager to resume playing. In fact, he's way beyond eager.

"He's ready," Pearl said. "We'll see where he is. I'll take a look at him again Monday night."

Although Crews' heart issue proved to be a temporary setback, it has some positive ramifications. First and foremost, he now knows he needs monitoring and perhaps medication to manage the condition. Secondly, Crews' absence has enabled 6-10, 270-pound freshman Brian Williams to get some much-needed experience. Saturday against Ohio State, for instance, he recorded 6 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal in 20 quality minutes of relief work.

"Brian Williams did a terrific job," Pearl said.

The Vols have been utilizing a nine-man rotation the past six weeks. Asked if the return of Crews will increase the rotation to 10 players, Pearl shook his head.

"No, we'll stay at nine," the coach said. "When Duke comes back somebody will move out."

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