Childress was on an incredibly positive cycle 10 months ago. He had been a key figure in Tennessee's advance to the 2007 NCAA Sweet 16. He averaged 18 minutes per game in the three "Dance" contests, hitting 8 of 12 shots, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc. He scored 10 second-half points (including a pair of clutch free throws in the final minute) as the Vols nipped Virginia in Round 2, then drained four of five shots from 3-point range as Tennessee nearly upended Ohio State in the South Region semifinals.
Childress followed up with some outstanding play during the Vols' European exhibition tour last August. The 6-9, 235-pounder seemed poised for a big junior year in 2007-08.
Expectations continued to soar when the opening weeks of the season went well. "Chilly" was hitting 58.8 percent from the floor (10 of 17) and averaging 18 minutes per game through the first three outings. He notched career highs in both points (14) and rebounds (8) vs. Prairie View A&M in Game 3.
At this point, however, the positive cycle turned into a very negative cycle. An ankle injury caused him to miss two games and play sparingly in several others. While Childress was hampered, 6-10, 270-pound freshman Brian Williams began to blossom.
Shortly after he finally recovered from the ankle injury, Childress came down with the flu. The nagging health problems – coupled with the progress of Brian Williams and the return of Duke Crews from heart concerns – relegated Childress to the role of spectator. He saw no action in nine of the Vols' last 18 games and played four minutes or less in eight of the other nine.
With Crews departing the Big Orange program earlier this spring, however, Childress appeared likely to return to prominence – perhaps as the No. 1 backup at both the post and power forward spots in 2008-09.
The negative cycle wasn't done with him just yet, though. Childress recently injured his knee playing pickup ball and now faces surgery to correct the problem. He'll miss the Rocky Top summer league, which puts him at risk of losing minutes to incoming freshmen Philip Jurick and Renaldo Woolridge.
If the darkest hour really is just before dawn, Ryan Childress should be due some blinding sunlight in the very near future.