Coach Chism

Wayne Chism plays a lot of roles for Tennessee's basketball team - post defender, chief inside threat, leading rebounder, 3-point bomber and team clown to name a few.

One crucial role that may be overlooked is the one he fills in the life of his backup, Vol freshman Kenny Hall.

"Wayne is probably one of Kenny's best coaches, as far as working with him," head coach Bruce Pearl said this week.

Hall, a 6-9, 220-pounder from Stone Mountain, Ga., concedes as much.

"He's like a coach but I would say he's more like a mentor," Hall said. "He's constantly trying to teach me the plays, different moves. He's helped me in the weight room on different occasions."

Chism has taught his understudy a lot just by the way he competes on the practice floor.

"It's a battle in practice and drills," Hall said. "If I do a move wrong, he's always telling me a way to improve it or that I need to adjust my footwork."

After backing up Chism in Games 1-17, Hall moved into the starting lineup for Game 18 at Georgia, with Chism moving from the post to the power forward spot. With Chism's status for Wednesday night's game with Vanderbilt unclear due to a sprained knee, the Vols may need Hall to play a beefier role than he has previously.

If so, the rookie believes he's up to the challenge.

"I feel I can step up my game to the highest level expected," Hall said. "That's what I expect of myself, and that's what my teammates expect."

Hall takes great pride in his rebounding, which helps explain why 30 of his 55 rebounds have come off the offensive glass. He remains upset that Georgia outrebounded Tennessee 35-24 en route to upsetting the Vols 78-63 last Saturday in Athens.

"Looking back, I seen boards I think I could've gotten and Wayne could've gotten," he said, unable to stifle a frown. "As hard as it is to say, I think they just wanted it more."

Four games into SEC play, Hall already has discovered that league competition is a step up from non-conference action.

"It's more intense, and I love it," he said. "I like it better playing these great teams, as opposed to playing not-so-great teams."

With Vanderbilt visiting Wednesday and Florida coming to Knoxville on Sunday, Hall is understandably excited about this week.

"My blood's pumping for those games," he said. "We're 3-1 in the SEC, and that would push us to 5-1. That (Georgia game) was a tough loss, and I don't want to experience that again. These are the most important games this season."

When asked about heralded Vandy post A.J. Ogilvy, Hall called him "a good player" but said he really didn't have much else to say about the Commodore standout.

When a reporter noted that "You're not intimidated by much, are you?" Hall replied: "I'm not intimidated by anything.... I'm so confident in myself and my game that I don't find any other player to be better. Not saying I'm the best, but I'm not going to give a player that much respect to say, 'You're better than me.'"

Hall isn't intimidated by hostile fans, either. He really enjoyed UT's recent trips to Tuscaloosa and Athens, although he noticed that those places were a lot different than Knoxville.

"The fans like us way more here than they do on the road," he said, grinning sheepishly. "But I like road games. I like when the fans are going at us, throwing harsh words at us. It kind of gets me pumping, gets me extra ready to make them mad."

That competitive nature led Hall to work extra hard prior to enrolling at UT last summer. He wanted to be in the best condition possible when he launched his college career.

"Kenny grew an inch or two and gained about 25 pounds in the offseason," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl noted. "He probably made as much progress this summer and fall as any freshman in the country."

Hall has made considerably more progress since the season began, even though he wasn't playing much earlier this year.

"Kenny's attitude was outstanding while he was the 10th or 11th man," Pearl said. "Nothing's changed now that he's moved into the starting lineup."

Hall still needs to add another 20 pounds of muscle. Otherwise, he has all of the tools to be special.

"He has the ability to score around the basket," Pearl noted. "He has great hands. He can finish, make free throws, defend, block shots."

Hall also has a dynamic work ethic.

"I think part of it is his toughness, his confidence," Pearl said. "Kenny really, really wanted to be here and really believes in what we're doing. He really wanted to show his teammates that he was ready to answer the bell when he got his opportunity."

Hall has tremendous potential but, just 18 games into his college career, still has a lot to learn.

"The hardest thing for a freshman is handling all of the information that's coming at him that would be different from game to game," Pearl said, referring to scouting reports and the like. "It's the mental aspects of preparation that are the most challenging for a young player.

"As long as he gets to the right place at the right time, good things are going to happen."

Especially when he has Coach Chism on his side.

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