"He's been very vocal this year," sophomore wing Cameron Tatum said. "He was vocal last year but this year he wants to go out with a bang. He stepped up big in the Virgin Islands and he's stepping up big in practice. We're going to ride him and Tyler (Smith), J.P. Prince and Bobby (Maze) because they're our seniors."
Although he is the team clown, Wayne Chism has his serious moments. He's having a lot more of those this season than in years past, too.
"We're trying to make something happen my last year," he said. "I've been to a championship game and never came out with anything. Now I'm really trying to win me a tournament, so I can leave here in good standing."
The Vols are 5-1 and ranked No. 11 nationally heading into tonight's game with ETSU (7 o'clock tipoff on SportSouth). Asked what it would take for him to feel he left UT in good standing, Chism replied: "If we all stick together and keep playing hard we can come out with a good season. Our goal is just to play good defense and win games."
Chism is not a difficult guy to read. It's obvious when he's happy and just as obvious when he's frustrated. He seems to be channeling his anger and frustration much better this season than in previous seasons, though. When he does so, he can take over a game.
"Sometimes it takes him getting a little mad but under control," head coach Bruce Pearl noted. "Then he can really step it up."
Asked to pinpoint the biggest difference in Chism this year, the coach answered: "Maturity, poise, just knowing he's got the ability to step up at any time."
Chism certainly stepped up in the Paradise Jam at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, earning all-tournament recognition in leading Tennessee to the finals. He produced 13 points and 10 rebounds in UT's semifinal defeat of DePaul, then followed with 24 points and 6 rebounds in the title game vs. sixth-ranked Purdue.
"It meant a lot for me and my team," he said of his big showing vs. the Boilermakers. "I felt good because I scored the first couple of baskets and felt like I couldn't miss. Every time Coach came to me I shot the ball and made it. I kept us in the game and I felt good about it."
Because Tennessee has other big-time offensive threats in Tyler Smith and Scotty Hopson, Chism is unlikely to lead the Vols in scoring very often. But he may lead the Vols in an even more crucial way.
"Wayne's definitely more of a leader this year," sophomore post Brian Williams said. "When he goes, the whole teams goes. There's no stopping us when he's going."