KNOXVILLE — Emmanuel Negedu’s first rule of basketball is simple.
Or look stupid.
“If I don’t go hard, I look stupid out there,” the University of Tennessee freshman forward said after Monday’s victory over Louisiana Lafayette. “So I have to do that, and that’s what I do; I go hard when I play.”
That’s why the athletic, 6-foot-7 Nigerian plays in the paint like a Tasmanian Devil — “go hard or go home,” as he put it.
“There’s nothing to leave out there on the court,” Negedu said. “Whenever you are out there, you go all out. Like I just said, if I don’t play hard, I look stupid, so I play hard. If I’m tired, I tell coach, ‘I’m tired; take me out,’ and I go out, and then I get my wind back and I come back and go hard again.
“When you say, ‘I don’t want to go all out,’ you’re killing the team, because you’re not doing anything productive. And you look stupid.”
On that scale, Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl considers Negedu a smart player. That’s why he plays the undersized big man nearly 10 minutes per game, as opposed to sticking with a three-man post rotation of Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and Brian Williams.
Emmanuel and Brian are right there (on the depth chart),” Pearl said. “Emmanuel’s playing about 10 minutes a game, and I like the 10 minutes he’s giving us. I like his energy, and I think rather than shortening the rotations at this point, I like the fact that we play 10 guys. I do, because I like the energy that Emmanuel brings.
“I think Brian would probably like more minutes, but I let guys play their way into roles. If Brian, Tyler and Wayne would all play great, that would squeeze Emmanuel out, but I don’t know that all three of them will always play great, so I want Emmanuel to get those 10 minutes.”
Negedu averages just 2.4 points and 3 rebounds per game, but the 80 percent free-throw shooter has had his moments. Pearl said the Vols wouldn’t have beaten 11th-ranked Georgetown without Negedu’s six points and five rebounds in 20 minutes (because Chism and Williams battled foul trouble).
“Georgetown’s only loss right now is to Tennessee,” Pearl said. “And without Emmanuel Negedu, they’d be undefeated. So I’m not ready to shorten the bench just yet. I’m not.
“Now, it can happen, but guys have got to play their way into more minutes.”
Negedu hopes to increase his role. The New Hampshire Gatorade player of the year and Rivals.com’s No. 13 Class of 2008 power forward hasn’t spent this much time on the bench in four years.
“It’s really hard to — how should I say it? — be in a position like this,” said Negedu, who speaks four languages and understands at least five. “You come here from high school, and you were, ‘the guy.’ You started every game. You were the No. 1 player on the school team. In New Hampshire, I was the MVP, Mr. Everything. I come down here, and I sit on the bench and come off the bench. But I just had to realize that when I first came to the United States, I was in the same situation as a freshman in high school. As a sophomore, I started playing a little bit more. I worked my way to the top there, and I will work my way to the top here ... I’ve just got to keep playing hard, and my time is going to come.”
Pearl said Monday night that freshman guard Scotty Hopson’s cold streak has become a “concern.”
Hopson is 13-for-35 (37.1 percent) from 3-point range this season, but he’s 1-for-11 in the past three games after an 0-for-4 night against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“I am concerned about Scotty’s perimeter shooting,” Pearl said. “He had one (Monday) that was about a foot short, and that’s a concern. They’re going to start giving that shot to him, and I hope he makes them pay.
“I think a lot of it has to do with his shot preparation.”
Hopson wasn’t made available for interviews Monday night, but junior guard Josh Tabb defended the team’s only McDonald’s All-American.
“We know what Scotty can do,” Tabb said. “He’ll be fine.”
Hopson’s teammates are scorching the nets, either. The Vols are a combined 21-for-77 (27.3 percent) from the perimeter the past three games.
“I thought we looked better in our shot preparation from 3 (on Monday),” Pearl said. “I don’t want them to be tentative.”