Rising sophomore Jordan McRae showed up for summer school last June packing a mere 160 pounds on a rail-thin 6-6 frame. His slight build enabled opposing players to outmuscle him on drives to the basket - his and theirs. It also made establishing rebounding position difficult. Now those days are gone.
"It's hard to gain weight but I'm getting a lot stronger," he said this week. "I'm 185 now. I came in at about 160 last year."
Based on pickup games with his Vol teammates and two promising outings in the Rocky Top Summer League, McRae views the added weight as a big plus.
"I'm finishing with a lot more contact, just going through it," he said.
Much as McRae's slender frame hindered him physically as a freshman last winter, his volatile nature hindered him emotionally. When things went badly, he struggled to bounce back from the adversity. Now those days are gone, too, he says.
"I'm a lot more calm, poised player," he said. "I'm more of a complete player this year - not just an athlete. I'm trying to play with the same passion but be a little calmer."
The calmer McRae made a splash in his summer-league debut, hitting 16 of 38 shots and scoring 48 points for The News-Sentinel in Wednesday's 111-109 loss to DeRoyal Industries.
McRae took no consolation in the fact he scored 10 of his team's last 15 points, noting: "It don't count if you don't win, right?"
He was much more economical Friday night in a 106-96 defeat of Ralph Brown & Associates, draining 16 of 28 shots en route to 41 points.
Explosive performances are nothing new for McRae, however. He performed so brilliantly in preseason camp last fall that he started the Vols' 2010-11 exhibition opener. He scarcely left the bench once the regular season began, however, averaging just 5.3 minutes and 1.8 points per game, and shooting a frigid 31.6 percent from the field. Still, he says the season wasn't a total loss.
"There was a lot of benefit," he said. "That was my first time not playing at any level. Coach (Bruce) Pearl said I was going to have to be a man and work for everything I was going to get."
Asked why he didn't play more last season, McRae shrugged and replied, "I don't know."
With Tennessee minus five of the top six scorers from last season, McRae's offensive capabilities could be critical as Cuonzo Martin takes the Vol reins for 2011-12.
"Hopefully, I'm going to be a scorer on the team," McRae said. "But, whatever Coach Martin wants me to do for the team, that's what I'm willing to do."