KNOXVILLE -- The times were tough for Kenny Hall.
Watching his Tennessee basketball teammates make a serious push toward the postseason from afar during an indefinite suspension was difficult for the then-Volunteers junior.
Yet through conversations with UT coach Cuonzo Martin, Hall said he never truly felt his future with the Vols was in jeopardy.
"I tried to stay positive throughout the whole process," Hall said before his team's Pilot Rocky Top League opener Monday night. "I know my coach. He understood that I'm a human and as a young man I'm going to make a mistake. He pretty much kept talking to me throughout the whole process, so I pretty much had faith that I was coming back throughout the whole process."
The 6-foot-9 post player from Georgia was coming off a two-game starting stint when his suspension for conduct detrimental to the team was announced shortly before UT beat Arkansas. Hall missed the season's final nine games before he was reinstated in late March. He averaged career highs in points (6.2), rebounds (4.5) and minutes (20.2) while averaging a block per game.
Hall's time away from the team didn't include Martin. The two met "whenever we needed to chop it up," which equated to multiple times per week, Hall said. Those meetings gave Hall confidence that he'd eventually return and allowed Martin to get his message across.
"He stayed communicating with me, and I stayed communicating with him," Hall said. "He pretty much gave me confidence that he was going to bring me back, but he just wanted me to take time and sit out and think about not just the game of basketball but life. It was time for me to grow up as a person."
Though he couldn't practice or work out with his teammates, Hall continued to lift weights and work on his game. He's added 10 pounds to his lanky 230-pound frame, which at the least will help him in upcoming practice battles with the Vols' bruising forward duo of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. It also gave him time to think.
"I've learned a lot, man," he said. "I've got something going for myself, and I've got to take advantage of it and do my best to stay out of trouble and be a leader [and] a standup guy for my team. Not just on the court, but off the court as well, because it's bigger than basketball."
Playing basketball in front of a crowd for the first time since February, Hall scored 32 points in Monday's summer-league loss, mostly against slimmed-down former Vol Wayne Chism, who played in Hungary last season. Maymon and Stokes might get most of the attention in UT's frontcourt, and Hall might be better suited to fill a role as a rebounder and interior defender.
There's one other role Hall knows he definitely wants to fill: team leader.
"It was tough being away from the team and not being able to participate in activities, [not] traveling with the team and not being in the locker room for the big wins," he said. "That was one of the hardest parts about it, watching them not make the [NCAA] tournament and losing in the second round of the NIT. I felt like I could have done a lot to get us in the tournament or at least further in the NIT.
"It's in the past. Now I'm just looking forward to the future."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.