Handling the heat

Because there is no air-conditioning, temperatures often exceed 100 degrees when Knoxville's Bearden High Gym is packed with fans attending the Pilot Rocky Top League.

Naturally, the sweltering conditions elicit complaints from most of the players – Tennessee's Brian Williams being a notable exception. He cut his basketball teeth playing on New York City playgrounds.

"Back on the streets in New York you might catch a few games with the concrete being 125 degrees," he said during a break in Monday night's RTL action. "So this really ain't that hot. I've played in hotter places than this. Stokely Center (where the Vols sometimes worked out prior to the completion of the Pratt Pavilion practice facility) was hotter than this."

That said, Williams readily admits that hauling his 6-10, 270-pound frame up and down the court in 100-degree temperatures at Bearden's Gym is no small challenge.

"Man, it's hard to get up and down the court," he said, "but it's beneficial at the same time because I'm losing weight and getting in shape. That's good for me."

Also good for Williams was facing former Marquette center Jon Mueller in Monday night's Rocky Top action. Mueller, 30, is a 6-10, 250-pounder who was the second player picked in this year's RTL Draft. He is as good as most of the SEC centers Williams will oppose, so facing a player of his caliber in a summer league is a big plus.

"It definitely is a great thing," Williams conceded. "He's got a lot of experience and a lot of size, and he knows how to use it."

Williams (13 points) and Mueller (10) essentially neutralized one another Monday night as The News-Sentinel beat Richardson Construction 120-108. And, as usual, they left the court respecting one another.

"He's working on my defense," Williams said. "Guarding him and boxing out against him is definitely beneficial to me. He's told me little pointers I can do using my left hand and stuff, so it's definitely a great thing playing against him in the middle."

Williams has learned from Mueller off the court, as well.

"Every time I see him I ask him what I can do to get better and what he's learned over the years," Williams said. "He's a veteran, so of course you can learn something from a veteran."

Williams has learned a lot since arriving at Tennessee as a chunky 300-pound freshman three years ago. He believes the summer league has contributed significantly to his development.

"This ain't a game for the big man, of course," he said. "But running up the court with these guys and learning how to play the screen-and-roll is definitely good. It's going to benefit me during the season."

Playing in climate-controlled gyms will help, too.


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