KNOXVILLE — To his own surprise and disappointment, Kenny Hall had to follow his own advice.
The suggestion the Tennessee senior gave to his younger basketball teammates now applied to him.
"You've just got to be ready and stay ready when your number gets called," Hall said before the Volunteers practiced Monday in preparation for tonight's home game against LSU. "That's what I've been telling the younger guys all season long. That's the way we've got to be: You never know when your number will get called."
Or, in Hall's situation, doesn't get called.
The matchup and flow of the game kept the 6-foot-9 center on the bench for the entirety of Tennessee's win at Vanderbilt last Wednesday. He'd started all 20 games this season to that point, but the Vols' move to a four-guard lineup made Hall the odd man out. Such a starting lineup better suits Tennessee's personnel -- and in most cases its opponents'.
"I had a little fire under my belly," Hall admitted.
That fire showed in Tennessee's historic win against Kentucky on Saturday. Hall scored 12 points, hit six of seven free throws and grabbed four rebounds in 17 productive minutes as the Vols posted their largest margin of victory over the Wildcats in the 216-game series.
Hall's highlight was an emphatic one-handed dunk that drew a foul from Kentucky's Alex Poythress in the second half.
"He's done a great job in his growth as a young man into a man on and off the court," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "If you saw the Vanderbilt game, he was one of our best cheerleaders. He was a true professional.
"Once again it's a family, it's a team and that's the most important thing, that the University of Tennessee wins the ballgame. We deal with the other stuff later. He didn't complain about it, came back the next day in practice and -- don't get me wrong, I don't expect a guy like that to be happy about it as a competitive basketball player -- he came back and played well in the last game."
With his team on a three-game winning streak, Martin spoke Monday of his players accepting their roles, and though Hall's particular part reduces his minutes, he appears to be on board with it. A natural center who's more effective offensively the closer he gets the ball to the basket, Hall was forced into playing power forward with Jarnell Stokes at center due to Jeronne Maymon's injury and Derek Reese's delayed debut.
He'll still play the spot when the Vols play both big men, but it's more likely Hall will take some of Yemi Makanjuola's minutes as Tennessee's second center behind Stokes.
Against Kentucky, Hall played 17 minutes to Makanjuola's four.
"That's a big adjustment when you've got a guy that plays around the rim, and now you're expecting him to play on the perimeter, move his feet, guard smaller guys, because 70 percent of the guys we play against are smaller guys," Martin said. "That's not an easy thing to do when you're used to migrating to the rim and all of a sudden you're chasing a guy on the wing or in the corners. Then he can't be as efficient as he would like to be offensively, because those guys get up in him and he's not a ball-handler and it makes it tough.
"As a coaching staff, you go back to the drawing board and figure out what the best-case scenario is for the team to be successful."
For Tennessee, that's been using four guards surrounding Stokes. The lineup creates better spacing, opens more lanes for penetration from Trae Golden and Jordan McRae and gives Stokes more room to operate on the block either in single coverage or against double teams.
Quinton Chievous, D'Montre Edwards and Brandon Lopez all have made contributions despite long stretches of not playing this season, and now Hall is following the same advice he likely gave to some of those players.
"It was definitely difficult," he said. "It'd be difficult for any senior to sit out a game. One thing about it is we got the win on the road, so that definitely had my spirits up.
"Obviously it worked out pretty good. Whatever it is, you've just got to deal with it and continue trucking along. As long as we're winning, it's all good."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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