This Black isn't fading

At age 32, former Tennessee basketball standout C.J. Black is a decade older than most of the players he faces in the Rocky Top Summer League. So, what is he doing challenging a bunch of kids?

"Lying to myself," he said with a laugh. "Living a false dream."

Although he is no longer as quick or athletic as most of the summer league's younger players, Black competes reasonably well against them.

"I use a lot more technique," he explained. "Athleticism can only take you so far. If you're somebody with good technique who understands the game and what they're doing, you really don't have to use a lot of athleticism. You can have patience."

Black probably learned patience at Tennessee. After a heralded prep career at Chattanooga Brainerd High School, he played his freshman season of college ball for a Vol squad that limped home 11-16 in 1996-97.

Good times were on the horizon, however. Black helped lead the program to consecutive records of 20-9, 21-9 and 26-7 with three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids. The last squad set a program record for single-season victories and came within a whisker of advancing to the Elite Eight.

C.J. Black played a key role in that turnaround. The 6-8, 255-pounder departed ranked No. 1 on the school's all-time blocked-shots list, No. 9 on the all-time rebounding list and No. 16 on the all-time scoring list.

"My time at Tennessee was great," he recalled this week. "The main reason I came to UT was to make it a powerhouse like some of the other schools around the country. I grew up a Kansas Jayhawk fan, and I wanted Tennessee to be the same way. I think I accomplished that."

Indeed. Tennessee went 67-25 during his final three years on The Hill, then rode that momentum to a 22-11 record the year after he left. The program slipped a bit during Buzz Peterson's four-year run as head man but is experiencing unprecedented success under Bruce Pearl. The Vols are 126-46 the past five years, with five consecutive NCAA Tournament bids.

A decade removed from his college career, Black now works as a boiler engineer for Tate & Lyle's Loudon plant.

"We make 19 different products out of corn," he said.

Playing for Choice Spine in the summer league, Black recently squared off against 6-10, 270-pound Vol senior Brian Williams, who plays for the DeRoyal entry. Williams scored 16 points and impressed his Vol predecessor.

"I think he's coming along well," Black said. "A lot of people have been very critical of him but they have to understand that he started out late and he's going to develop a little later. I think he's starting to come around. He's getting better and better every year. I think people will be surprised with him this upcoming season.

"He's learned how to run, how to position himself, how to call out screens. He's directing the defense. I think he's doing a great job. He's finishing around the bucket a lot better than he was last year."

Williams has blocked 47 shots in his first three seasons as a Vol. That leaves him well behind Black, whose 212 career blocks still tops Tennessee's all-time list.

Asked what makes a great shot-blocker, Black paused thoughtfully before responding.

"It's really about timing and understanding that there's only so many moves a player can do once he picks up his dribble," he said. "It's just a matter of timing and understanding which way they can get to the basket."

Playing in the summer league also affords Black the opportunity to play with and against flashy Tennessee wings Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum and Jordan McRae. The ex-Vol concedes that all three are unusually gifted.

"They're pure athletes but athleticism can only get you so far," Black cautioned. "They're going to have to have a good team concept, with everybody doing their job and playing great defense."

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