Many scout teams, even at college basketball's highest levels, don’t have five scholarship players.
Freshman point guard Trae Golden, one of Tennessee's five four-star scout team players, is eager to earn back his rotation spot.
Tennessee on Thursday lined up a scout team of five four-star recruits.
Freshman point guard Trae Golden, freshman guard Jordan McRae, junior forward Renaldo Woolridge and sophomore forwards Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall gave the Volunteers’ starters plenty of competition on Thursday night.
Of course, as Golden put it, anything less would have been a surprise.
“All of us could start for any high-major program,” Golden said. “We weren’t a normal scout team.”
Collecting talent other top programs coveted hasn’t been a problem for UT the past few years, and that was evident with a quick glance at the Thompson-Boling Arena floor on Thursday.
But the Vols (16-10, 6-5 SEC), who trimmed their main rotation from 10 to nine before Wednesday’s win over South Carolina, simply don’t have enough minutes to fully share the wealth at this point. And until those scout-team members start consistently outplaying teammates — including lesser-prized prospects such as Brian Williams, John Fields, Steven Pearl, Skylar McBee, Melvin Goins and Josh Bone — they’ll stay on the bench for most of the game.
“My heart feels for those guys,” Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. “Jeronne Maymon didn’t come here to sit. (Hall) didn’t come here to sit. You watched practice today. We had Trae, Jordy, Kenny, Jeronne and Renaldo out there (on the scout team). And you know what? They played well. It was physical.
“I looked at that and I said, ‘You know what? That looks a little bit like five guys that will be playing a lot for us next year. And they looked good. They looked good.”
Trae Golden, Jordan McRae and Kenny Hall would like to spend less time on Tennessee's bench.
How good did they look?
They beat the starters.
Well ... sort of.
“We won because we got more repetitions on offense,” Hall said. “The coaches were more focused on defense today. But a win’s a win, man. I’m definitely going to take that.
“But you know what? If we was to go back out there and play again — a couple of five-minute quarters or whatever — we’d beat them. We’d blow them out the water.”
Before the team drills started, Hall walked up to a some of the starters and told them, “this is not going to be like a regular scout team.”
“This is going to be like y’all are playing in a game against a Division I opponent,” Hall continued. “We’re coming for you.”
Of course they are. As Golden said, “nobody wants to be on the bench.”
Offense hasn't kept Kenny Hall off the floor. Defense and rebounding have been the problems.
“Everybody on that scout team is a competitor,” Hall said. “We’ve all got the taste of (playing in) game situations, and we all want to be there, so we’re all going to push the starters to step their game up — and if not, you know...”
Some small changes have already happened. Pearl, frustrated Wednesday night with Fields playing another non-productive game, played Hall seven minutes.
Hall, who has more offensive skill that Fields but doesn’t typically bring the same defensive energy and rebounding productivity, had three points and three rebounds in those seven minutes against South Carolina. Fields didn’t score and had one turnover in five minutes against the Gamecocks.
Pearl admitted that taking Fields this summer as a one-year transfer “really put Kenny in a tough spot,” but the coaches opted for Fields’ energy and defensive presence over Hall to start the season.
“There’s not much difference between the two of them,” Pearl said. “Kenny is better offensively, and John brings a little bit more energy, so Kenny got put in a tough spot. But I think he’ll learn a great deal from it in the sense that Kenny, knowing Wayne (Chism) was gone, probably just thought he could walk into the position. And he can’t. And I don’t think he worked hard enough in the offseason to take that step from promising freshman to a sophomore that’s really ready to step in.
“I’m very hopeful that having gone through this experience now, he’ll learn from it and we’ll see quite a difference in him next year.”
Hall, who at 6-foot-9 hopes to grow from 225 pounds to “at least” 240 by next season, said he learned a tough but important lesson.
“It’s not been easy,” he said. “If you get used to being on the bench and it gets easier for you, you’re not a competitor. And I feel like since I’m a competitor, I want to go out there and compete. That’s just natural for me. But it is what it is, and it made me a lot hungrier, and a lot more willing and ready to stay right and stay ready.
“I’m naturally a hungry person, so if I feel like I need to go harder in practice or whatever, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s really just about me staying right and staying ready and staying hungry.”
Pearl and Hall’s teammates have noticed.
“I tell Kenny all the time that I think he’s one of the best offensive players I’ve ever seen in the post. He’s just not a great rebounder now, and I tell him that’s the only thing that’s keeping him off the court. When he gets that, he’s going to be one of the best centers in the country, I guarantee that.
“Every time he gets in the paint, he gets a bucket or gets to the line at will. When he gets that rebounding down and gets more minutes, he’s going to be great.”
Added Pearl: “Kenny will still be a factor down the stretch (this season).”
Others from UT’s scout team could join the mix, too.
Talent certainly isn’t the issue.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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