Minute man

He played sparingly as a freshman in 2008-09 last season but still became a crowd favorite due to his all-out hustle. Now he's hoping to retain his popularity in 2009-10 while increasing his minutes.

Emmanuel Negedu might just accomplish that feat. The 6-7, 230-pound sophomore post from Nigeria believes a year of college experience and a summer of Rocky Top League experience will make him a more polished player.

"I feel like I'm playing pretty good," he said moments after scoring 13 points in First Tennessee Banks 121-120 defeat of Choice Spine in Monday night's RTL action.

"My freshman year I saw how the league (SEC) is and I played with bigger guys. Coming back this year I've got experience and understanding and more confidence."

In his first three RTL games Negedu has gone against 31-year-old C.J. Black, 30-year-old Jon Mueller and 27-year-old Ron Slay. You can't help but pick up some tricks facing guys who have been around the block that many times.

"That helps pretty good," Negedu conceded. "They have more experience, so you learn from them. You see the way they play and you can pick up your game."

Negedu respects the Rocky Top League for "bringing different people together," adding that he relishes the opportunity to "entertain the fans a little bit and also have a good time."

He would have an even better time if not for the sweltering heat in Bearden High's Gym. By comparison, even Nigerian summers seemed mild.

"I played outdoor ball there," he said, "but it was not like this, though. This place is REALLY hot."

The Vols won the SEC East title last winter but lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game to finish 21-13. They expect to do better in 2009-10.

"We're working hard and looking pretty good out there in the summer league," Negedu said. "I feel we're going to be good."

In addition to the Rocky Top League, Tennessee players get together twice per week for pickup games at the Pratt Pavilion practice facility.

"The pickup games are going pretty good," Negedu said. "We go really hard in the pickup games to get better."

No one goes any harder than Negedu. Now he just needs to elevate his game to match the level of his effort.

"I feel the biggest improvement in my game is I have more confidence to do some stuff I know I can do," he said. "Now I know some things I can add to my game, so I've put them in. I'm trying to take the ball to the basket more and trying to get the open shot a little bit."

If he succeeds on both counts, he just might get those added minutes he's seeking.

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