Ferocious forward

One Tennessee basketball player is stirring memories of former Vol great Bernard King ... moreso with his scowl than his skill.

King, a three-time first-team All-American, viewed each game as a war and each opponent as an enemy. The 6-7, 205-pound New Yorker played with a chip on his shoulder and a snarl on his lips. Astute fans will notice a similar countenance in Tennessee freshman Kenny Hall. Upbeat and charismatic off the court, the 6-9, 220-pounder exhibits a brooding intensity once he takes the playing floor.

Based on Hall's surly on-court demeanor, you'd swear someone stole his lunch money and only a 30-point victory will bring it back. He did not develop this dark disposition watching King, however. In fact, Hall has no idea why his on-court expression appears so ferocious.

"I can't explain it. It's unexplainable," he said with a shrug. "I've just got so much love and passion for the game and I'm so much of a competitor."

After a thoughtful pause, he gave the question another shot.

"I don't like to lose," he said. "I don't like getting my shot blocked. I don't like missing shots. I don't like somebody rebounding over me. I don't like somebody beating me to a position on the floor. I want to be in the best position."

Like King, Hall clearly is a perfectionist. His goal is to post a double-double each time he takes the floor, no matter how limited his minutes might be. He expects to grab every rebound and he expects to make every shot, even when he's hammered during the attempt.

"A couple of times when I got fouled I thought I should've made those baskets," he said following a 7-point, 11-rebound effort in Saturday's 79-53 blowout of South Carolina. "It's just my competitive drive kicking in."

Appearances to the contrary, Hall says he is not angry when he's on the court. The sour expression is merely a byproduct of the incredible level of focus and energy he brings to all areas of his life at all times.

"I most definitely am into the moment," he said. "I can't wait to live every moment, each tick of the clock."

Like King, Hall is a beast on the backboards to be such a slender guy. He's averaging 3.0 rebounds per game, despite playing just 13 minutes per outing.

"That's always been a big role to me," he said. "At my height, that should just come natural - going after every board, offensively and defensively. If I go after every defensive board that opens the chance for a fast break in transition, and we're a great team in transition."

Underscoring Hall's aggressive nature is the fact he has been even more productive on the offensive glass (40 rebounds) than the defensive glass (36) to date.

"Offensively, rebounding around the goal lets me go up and put it back for a slam," he said. "I can get the and-one (three-point play) or I can get the foul shots. Or I can get it outside to somebody on the perimeter like Skylar (McBee) or Scotty (Hopson) for the jumper."

Hall seemed to be spinning his wheels when he failed to leave the bench in Tennessee's Dec. 31 game at Memphis. Four teammates were suspended the following day, however, forcing him to assume a significant role. He has responded by averaging 20 minutes, 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds over the past 10 games.

Naturally, head coach Bruce Pearl is encouraged by Hall's sudden emergence as a key player.

"One of the things we've asked Kenny to do through this whole thing is to understand that this season is about continuing to learn, continuing to grow, continuing to work in practice, continuing to listen and continuing to stay excited about playing," the coach said. "He needed to put stuff in the stat sheet, and he certainly did that with his elevated play."

Somehow, Hall has elevated his play without elevating his mood. Bernard King would be proud.

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