KNOXVILLE -- As media-savvy as Bruce Pearl is, the Tennessee men's basketball coach didn't put walk-on Josh Bone back in the lineup for a good story.
Pearl was driven by a good, old-fashioned marketing tactic: winning.
"My job is to put our team in the best position to win games," Pearl said of his decision to toss Bone back in the rotation for UT's second-round NCAA tournament win over Ohio.
Bone's defense was a big part of the equation against the Bobcats.
Ohio had shredded No. 3 seed Georgetown with 13 3-pointers -- most from dynamic guards D.J. Cooper and Armon Bassett -- in one of the first round's biggest upsets, and Bone is one of the Volunteers' best perimeter defenders.
"We talked about playing him right after I watched Ohio (tape)," Pearl said. "In watching Ohio, I knew that we guard Cooper or Bassett. I didn't know that we could guard them both at the same time on the floor, because I just did not feel like our 3 men were going to be quick enough. In spite of the fact that Josh hadn't played, I decided to go with him, because I felt like that gave us the best chance to win."
"If it didn't pay off, and we lost, Tennessee losing to Ohio ... there were going to be pretty of reasons to criticize anyway. Therefore, if it didn't work out, I was going to hear about it anyways. So it was a no-brainer."
Not only did Bone boost UT's defense, but the 6-foot-3 junior from Nashville added seven points, four rebounds, an assist and no turnovers with 3-for-4 shooting in just nine minutes. He had played seven combined minutes in the Vols' previous 15 games.
"Coach Pearl brought me in before the shoot-around the day before the game and just said, 'Josh, you're going to be playing minutes behind Scotty (Hopson). Just D up, and play hard like you always do,'" Bone said. "And I was ready, and I did that."
"Josh has been as patient as you can be for somebody in his situation," teammate Cameron Tatum said. "He knows he can play and we all know he can play, but sometimes things just happen, and you have to keep working hard and wait your turn.
"He works as hard as anybody out here. He works before, during and after practice. We were really excited to see him go out there and produce again. That's a testament to how hard of a worker he is, and how committed he is."
Bone, a close friend and former high school teammate of NBA forward Brandan Wright, was a scholarship player at Southern Illinois who played major minutes as a freshman on the Salukis' 2007 Sweet Sixteen team. He surprised many by leaving SIU midway through his sophomore season, and he stunned even more by turning down several quality scholarship offers to walk on at UT -- his childhood dream school.
"Not many people can say they got to play where they always wanted to play, ever since they were a kid," Bone said. "And not many people can say they played on a great team like this in front of 20,000 fans in a great arena."
But Bone wasn't expected to play much. And he might not have played much if not for a January arrest of four teammates.
He played double-digit minutes in a seven-game stretch when the Vols had just six healthy, eligible scholarship players. He made a huge 3-pointer in the second half of UT's upset win over No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10. He made three 3s while playing sticky defense on star point guard Chris Warren during the Vols' come-from-behind, overtime win over Ole Miss on Jan. 16.
Bone's feel-good story seemingly evaporated as quickly as it surfaced, though. His minutes decreased in the three games following Ole Miss. By the fourth game, he was removed from the main rotation.
One day of visible pouting turned into two more months of determined work, though. Bone kept coming to practice early. He kept leaving late. He kept asking team managers to stay behind and help him rebound on shooting drills.
He would shoot a 3 from the right wing, sprint to the midcourt line, then sprint to the left wing to catch and shoot another 3. And then he'd do it again. And again. And again.
"I guess it's just how I was raised," Bone said. "I was taught not to give up or quit. My mom and dad didn't raise a quitter."
Bone quickly added that his Southern Illinois exit wasn't a matter of quitting. He didn't specify the reason, simply stating he "just had to do it.
"Everything happens for a reason, and I was meant to play here," Bone said. "I like playing here, and I like practicing, and it's fun to be a part of a team like this. I know they're going to need me sometimes, so I just have to stay ready.
"It's a testament to my mother and father always telling me not to give up and keep the faith and keep rolling."
Bone's bounce-back ability could be a boost for the sixth-seeded Vols in their game Friday against second-seeded Ohio State.
After working back from an injury to crack Southern Illinois' rotation as a freshman, Bone helped the Salukis to two opening-weekend tournament wins. But a freak accident one day before the Sweet Sixteen game forced Bone out of the lineup.
"We were going hard and a post player was near me, and I bent down on the floor trying to grab the ball," Bone said. "I actually felt like it was my fault, since I should have dove on the floor to try and get it. But he dove on the floor and bruised my MCL.
"I thought it was torn. I was stretched out pretty far, and he hit it pretty hard. But it was just bruised, and it healed over time. The next day, though, it was so sore, and I wasn't able to run or anything."
Southern Illinois' mid-major march ended with a 61-58 loss to top-seeded Kansas, and Bone has struggled to forget his absence. He's bugged himself with questions like, 'If I played, could I have hit a couple of shots that would have won us the game?'
"Not being able to play in that game hurt me a lot," Bone said. "But I'm back now, and I'm ready to make the best of it.
"It's exciting to be a part of a Sweet Sixteen team again, and hopefully it works out for the best this time."
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