KNOXVILLE - Drew Pember is not uncommon among college athletes in having goals for his freshman year.
Heading into his first basketball season at Tennessee, though, his objectives to date have not been potential on-court accomplishments.
For him, it was about getting stronger and adding weight to a 6-foot-9 frame that at the time carried 190 pounds. He and "Ticket" - fellow freshman Davonte Gaines - were enrolled in what was called a "skinny camp" that required them to eat regularly throughout the day. In addition to consuming lunch and dinner while observed by strength and conditioning coach Garrett Medenwald, they had to drink four shakes and eat four snacks a day and "had to send a picture to him so he knew we ate it."
"There were days I was like, 'I do not want to drink this,' just because I felt like I was going to throw up," Pember told the Times Free Press recently, adding he did vomit on a couple of occasions "but it's paid off."
In addition to what he called a "see food diet" ("I see food; I eat food"), Pember met with Medenwald four or five times a week to work out and make sure he was gaining healthy weight. He's now up to 207 pounds.
A graduate of Knoxville's Bearden High School who is considered a "stretch 4" where on-court positions are concerned, Tennessee offered Pember a scholarship in late April, a week before Davidson made an offer. He also received offers from Austin Peay, Florida Atlantic, Mercer, Samford and Wofford, most of which came after what he deemed a bad shooting performance while playing for former Tennessee basketball player Bobby Maze's AAU program on the Under Armour circuit at a tournament in Dallas.
Georgia, Maryland and Vanderbilt also showed interest.
"I shot like 0-for-8 from 3(-point range) and maybe 1-for-10 that game," he recalled. "I had multiple coaches call me and tell me, 'We want you. We think you have a chance to play here.' I was like, 'I was 0-8, 1-10. Why would you want that?' It was weird, honestly. I was thinking there was no way I'd get a call from a coach, but obviously you want that. I was trying to do other things in the game so that wouldn't be looked at as a bad thing, like rebounding, defending, talking, being a good teammate, but it was surreal, like, 'Why is this happening?'"
Now he gets the opportunity to play right down the road from the school he helped win a Class AAA state championship during his senior season, when he averaged 13 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 blocks, three assists and two steals per game. He called it a blessing, with family members able to drive 15 minutes to come see him play for a program that has won a combined 57 games the past two seasons.
"Even if I don't get in (a game), I'll be a good teammate," he said. "Perform every day in practice. Whatever Coach needs me to do, I'm going to do; I'm not really going to be necessarily upset if I don't score 20, 30 points - if we win, I'm happy.
"That's how it is for me. I'm not a stats guy. I'm not a 'I need to get these certain numbers' guy. I just want to win. I don't care what role it is."