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Vols' four-stars 'not a normal scout team'

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, or

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    Kevin Ryan

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    Your team. All the time.

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    Hall needs to be the man next season. I hope he hates riding the pines bigtime and earns a lot more playing time from here on out.

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  • I like hearing that Hall wants to put on more weight. He really needs to get bigger to rebound against the big guys in the SEC. He's got to be good next year, but we really need him down the stretch as well.

    How is Jordan McRae looking in practice? Can we expect him to play a lot next year?

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    I see all kinds of articles about football recruits that exceed beyond expectations coming out of high school. I see all kinds of articles about football recruits that never meet expectations. Every now and then you will see an article about the same things for basketball players. In my opinion, UT basketball, men's and women's, have more "don't meet expectation" players than those that exceed expectations.

    One of the reasons for that is due to the caliber of players they have been getting recently. Four and five star recruits usually are expected to deliver the moon; how many times go you get a Manning that comes in as a five star recruit and exceeds everyone's expectations? Not very often. More often, it is a Chris Loften that comes in and does that. And Chris Loften's just don't come along all the time.

    All of that being said, I see two UT basketball teams that for the most part have highly rated players that have not meet the expectations of the fan base. Are those expectations unreasonable? If you are expecting national championships every year, absolutely. If you are expecting improvement in each player from the day they step on campus, then I would say no.

    For the women, I think that Angie has meet expectations. She is going to leave UT as the all-time 3 point shooter. She has improved every year in some facet of the game. Otherwise, Glory is just starting to show what she is capable of. Cain, Brewer, and Baugh have all had injury issues. Symmons is showing the freshman wall syndrom, Avant has struggled with defensive intensity and injuries. Williams has shown flashes, but no consistency. Manning and Spani have one great game, then 5 mediocre ones.

    For the men, I see one player on this years team that has vastly exceeded expectations, Brian Williams. He has come so far from the player that he was as a freshman. Tatum comes the next closest to maximizing his capabilities. Hopson was supposed to be a one and done; in my opinion he has no business not returning for his senior year. Does he have NBA talent? Absolutely. Does he have an NBA work ethic and effor? Not that I have seen on the game floor. Hall and Woolridge have shown a few flashes, but nothing close to what I was expecting with their ratings. Fields has done about what I expected. Maymon was supposed to be this great transfer.

    Maybe the last month of the season will give us something positive to remember this season by.

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    RunThruThe T

    There is a difference between excelling as a player and excelling as a team. Many of these players have clearly grown as basketball players since they first arrived at Tennessee. Brian Williams has improved the most because he had the most room for improvement and the credit for this improvement should go to Brian and the coaching staff. I don't understand the veiled criticism of Hopson. His basketball skills and defense are night-and-day better now than when he arrived at Tennessee. He has elevated his game this year by finally listening to the coaching staff and driving to the basket. His major issue is consistency of effort, and one of Pat Summitt's favorite sayings is that "you can't coach effort". Hopson has to look in himself every game and put out 40 minutes of effort.

    As a team I believe this group of players has not elevated itself to something greater than the sum of its parts and that separates it from Bruce's previous teams. In my opinion, the primary difference is the lack of inside toughness and lack senior leadership on this team. We have not been able to overcome the loss of the inside presence and leadership of Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince as neither Williams, Steven Pearl, Tobias Harris, Josh Fields, et. al., can fill those voids. This has limited what we can do defensively and the fewer inside turnovers has impacted the effectiveness and efficiency of our offense. In his latest blog entry, Mark Pancratz is openly critical of the seniors who have not stood up in the locker room and demanded better and more unselfish play from the underclassmen. This is obviously a shot across the bow at Goins and Williams, who are the impact seniors.

    Pancratz is right. It is time for the seniors of this team to take control of this team and lead them for the rest of the season. Without this, I am afraid it will be a short tournament season.

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    Wes Rucker

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