Minutes man

Minutes man

When asked what Tennessee basketball fans will notice about him that's different in 2011-12, Kenny Hall couldn't resist a smug reply:

"I'll be playing."

After averaging 12.4 minutes per game as a freshman in 2009-10, Hall saw his playing time drop to 7.0 minutes per game in 2010-11. That's because the 6-8, 215-pound sophomore was stuck behind two heftier senior centers - Brian Williams (6-10, 270) and John Fields (6-9, 240).

Now that Williams and Fields are out of eligibility, Hall essentially has the center position by default. The obvious question: Is he ready to go from seven minutes per game to 27?

"I've been ready since I put on a Tennessee jersey," Hall said, a smile again playing at the corner of his mouth.

He'll get no argument from Wayne Chism. Tennessee's best center of the decade was a senior when Hall was a freshman in 2009-10 and faced him daily on the practice floor. After battling Hall again Wednesday night in Session 1 of the Rocky Top Summer League, Chism said he noted a lot of improvement in his former Vol teammate.

"He's grown up and matured," Chism said. "He's taking on a lot of responsibility for this next team. Kenny's going to be a good player. He learned a lot from me, Tyler (Smith), J.P. (Prince) and everybody he played behind."

Hall hit 9 of 15 shots Wednesday night and scored 22 points against Chism, who hit 7 of 14 and scored 17. The latter was not surprised by the determination Hall showed.

"He was like that when he got here," Chism recalled. "Kenny was always a tough guy who went hard in the weight room. He'd work out early or whatever he needed to do to become better and win."

Going against the 6-8, 245-pound Chism, Hall said, was as difficult a challenge as he faced in any of Tennessee's games last season.

"He's definitely as good, if not better," Hall said. "I looked at this game as a learning point. He's bigger and stronger and has professional experience after playing overseas. After the game I talked to him, asked him a few questions, and he gave me a few tips on different things."

When asked what tips he got from Chism, Hall again flashed that smug grin.

"I don't want to get into much detail," he said, "but Wayne helped me out a lot. He continues to be a big brother to me on the court."

Although he averaged a paltry 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds for the Vols last season, Hall was the first overall pick in the Rocky Top League draft. He was more flattered than surprised.

"It was a privilege and I appreciate 'em taking notice of me and my talents," he said. "As far as the team is concerned, though, I'm just planning on doing what I've got to do to get my team better. Defense and rebounding is first and foremost, but getting the buckets I need to get also."

With Tennessee minus five of the top six scorers from last year's team, Hall really needs to increase his production as a junior.

"Most definitely," he said. "I've always felt I could be a major contributor to the team. This is a chance for a whole group of us to show that we can go out there and compete."

Tennessee clearly is a program in transition. The Vols lost four starters and their entire coaching staff from a 2010-11 team that went just 19-15 with them. Hall believes several of last year's backups - himself included - will make the most of the clean slate, however.

"It's a whole new team and a whole new staff, so it's nothing but a new start," Hall said. "There's no other way to look at it."

Based on his early impressions of Martin, Hall is optimistic about the future.

"His big thing is discipline," Hall said. "That's the big thing this team needs - discipline and leadership. That's going to really help us out in the long run."

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