Bad taste lingers

The Tennessee Vols thought they would beat Mississippi State in the finals of the 2009 SEC Basketball Tournament last March. They didn't. Then they thought they would beat Oklahoma State in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament. They didn't do that, either.

Six months later, with the 2009-10 season mere weeks away, the bad taste left by those back-to-back losses still lingers. That's especially true for senior forward Wayne Chism, who is slow to let go of disappointments.

"It was a bad taste in my mouth getting beat in the Sweet 16 twice," he said, referring to the ending of Tennessee's 2007 and 2008 seasons. "That could've been another step. There's always a bad taste in any team's mouth when they get that close to anything they've never accomplished."

Tennessee has never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in program history. Clearly, that grates on Chism's nerves a bit. He'd love to see the Vols get over that hump this season.

"We've always been together," he said, "and we're going to be even more together and have more focus this year, be more prepared for each team we play."

For the Vols to advance beyond the Sweet 16, Chism must play a key role. The 6-9, 245-pound senior is being counted on to be a leader, not just a scorer and rebounder. He seems to have developed the maturity necessary to fill that role.

"Wayne came in very young," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "He's grown up as much as anybody in a four-year period as I've ever been around."

Chism had to grow up fast last season, since Tennessee was very young and inexperienced in the backcourt.

"It's kind of hard when you get to that situation," he conceded. "Coming in (as a freshman) I had everybody who could make plays out there. I was just a guy to rebound and kick it back out to 'em. As a junior I had to score, I had to rebound, I had to help (defensively) on this side. I had to rotate. There was a lot of responsibility I had my junior year. I have the same responsibility this year but it'll be even more because I'm a senior."

If Chism's leadership proves to be as outstanding as his defense, this could be a spectacular year for the Big Orange.

"He's the best defensive power forward in the country, particularly the way he moves his feet," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "He may not be a big shot-blocker but he is a terrific defender, and he makes his plays with his knowledge."

Naturally, Chism appreciates such praise. He takes great pride in his defensive prowess.

"I work hard at that," he said. "I do it in practice, I do it if I'm not even going against anybody ... if I'm doing slide (steps) or whatever. I go hard at anything in the defensive area because I know defense is going to win you some games. I've also been getting stronger and rebounding the ball better."

Chism's value is enhanced by his ability to excel at two positions. He has the strength to play the post but also has the quickness and shooting touch to fill in for All-American Tyler Smith at power forward. Chism relishes the opportunity to split his time between the two roles.

"It's good because it takes away some of the opposing team's ability to do what they want to do," he said. "If Tyler gets in foul trouble and their 4 man is having a good night, I can come in at the 4 to stop him and do a great job. Then we can go back and forth and he (opposing power forward) will be stuck wondering who's going to guard him next time down."

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