Wide-eyed Woolridge

Minutes before tipoff of last Friday's Tennessee-Tusculum exhibition, Brian Williams' injured knee was aggravated and Renaldo Woolridge was not.

When Williams tweaked an already sore knee during pregame warmups, Woolridge got word that he would be added to the starting lineup. The 6-8 freshman was thrilled almost beyond words.

"Oh, it was great. I was so happy," he recalled. "It's unfortunate what happened to Brian and I was really sad about that, but I knew my team needed me to step up, especially to come in (as a starter)."

The public-address announcer failed to list him as a starter but Woolridge was too excited to mind, even though he felt a twinge of sympathy for his injured teammate.

"That feeling (sympathy) went away quick," Woolridge recalled, "and I knew it was business."

Noting that he learned of his starting assignment "a few minutes before tipoff," the freshman conceded that if he'd known about the start hours in advance "It might have made me nervous."

As he battled the butterflies in his stomach, Woolridge realized that he wouldn't be on the floor long if he didn't perform well in the game's opening minutes.

"I just wanted to do what our team needed at the time," he said. "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing and I had to come out with aggression, do what Big Baby (Williams) would've done."

Actually, Williams and Woolridge are complete opposites in terms of style. Williams is a 6-10, 270-pound banger whose role consists of blocking a few shots and grabbing a few rebounds. Conversely, the 6-8, 208-pound Woolridge is a finesse player whose major contribution is clogging passing lanes, running the floor and making long-range shots.

The lanky Californian was so keyed up as Friday's tipoff approached that he sought out Tyler Smith and a few other Vol veterans.

As Woolridge recalled: "I talked to Tyler and some other people before the game and said, 'I'm going to follow your guys' lead.'"

That proved to be a good plan. The Vols came out on fire, racing to a 40-2 lead en route to an 82-51 romp. Woolridge finished with a team-best 15 points.

"They came out scoring and that sparked me to want to score," he said of his teammates. "I think I sparked others and we all just fed off each other."

Assuming J.P. Prince is sufficiently recovered from a preseason shoulder injury, Woolridge probably will begin Saturday night's regular-season opener vs. Chattanooga on the Vol bench. Whether he starts vs. the Moccasins or not, though, Woolridge impressed head coach Bruce Pearl with his play vs. Tusculum, even though he took a couple of shots he probably should've passed on.

"It was great to see Renaldo Woolridge handle the start, come out there and do what he does," Pearl said. "Renaldo shot 12 times. Will he stay aggressive and yet allow me to take a couple of shots back? Because they were 'huh?' shots. How will that affect his confidence?"

Woolridge suggests his confidence will be just fine, no matter what role he is asked to play.

"I see myself as a taller guard who can shoot over defenders and, if I need to, get in there and mix it up and get rebounds ... get some offensive rebounds and (putback) points," he said. "Whatever Coach needs me to do, I feel like I can do it."


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