Matchup nightmare

Renaldo Woolridge

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The great Army football teams of the mid-1940s featured Mr. Inside (Doc Blanchard) and Mr. Outside (Glenn Davis). Tennessee basketball has its own version of Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside but it's one guy.

Though better known to date for his rap performances as "Swiperboy" than his hoops performances, Vol senior Renaldo Woolridge is exhibiting the kind of versatility that could earn him some notoriety as an inside/outside threat on the basketball floor.

In Friday's season-opening 92-63 defeat of UNC Greensboro, for instance, the 6-foot-9, 215-pounder scored a first-half basket from inside. Then, after draining a couple of second-half 3-pointers, he surprised the Spartan defense with a pump fake followed by a driving dunk.

"If you've got a team that can stretch the defense you've got a chance to be pretty good, and he's a guy that has the ability to stretch the defense because he can make 3-point shots," Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Now we can get the ball inside to other guys. That's the biggest key in our offense: If you have a 'big' that can stretch the defense we can do a lot of other things."

After playing almost exclusively on the perimeter during his first three years at Tennessee, Woolridge is spending a lot of his time in the paint these days. That enabled him to lead the Vols with 8 rebounds Friday night, matching the combined total of starting center Kenny Hall and starting power forward Jeronne Maymon (4 each).

Due to his background as a perimeter player, Woolridge's quickness and agility could make him a difficult cover for opposing big men.

"Yeah, and the more we practice it, the more it helps," he said. "I was able to see the coach's plan for me in having me play a big position. He definitely thinks I'll be a mismatch problem, and I'm just going to continue to work hard at it. Coach has a plan for me, and I want to carry it out."

Still, the adjustment to the rigors of post play is no walk in the park. Battling 6-foot-10, 250-pound centers is a much different challenge than battling 6-4, 180-pound wings.

"The big difference in going inside is the physicality," Woolridge noted. "I'm used to running up and down the court but now I'm taking hits and boxing out. That's the biggest difference."

Fortunately for him, the rugged nature of Tennessee's preseason practices has helped toughen him mentally and physically.

"The offseason workouts Coach had with the weight vests and the intensity has really prepared me," Woolridge said. "My physicality has improved. I think I'm ready and I'm just going to keep playing as physical as I can."

The transition to inside play has benefited even more from the fact his father, Orlando Woolridge, was an All-America power forward at Notre Dame who went on to play 13 years in the NBA. Naturally, Orlando has helped Renaldo a lot.

"Yeah, he has," the Vol senior said. "Just the other day we were working on a post move but I didn't get a chance to test it out (Friday night). He played mainly inside in his career, so he's going to be around and help teach me some moves that hopefully will help me to use my quickness and athleticism to score."

Ready or not, Renaldo Woolridge appears likely to play a lot in the post this season. That's because first-team center Kenny Hall draws fouls the way a street light draws moths. Hall played just 3 minutes and 16 seconds in the first half of the opener due to two quick fouls. Woolridge saw 26 minutes of backup action Friday night and knows he must be ready to enter the lineup at any time.

"Definitely ... whenever Coach needs me," he said. "Every time I go in my main focus is to play as big as I can, be tough on the inside, get rebounds and try to do all of the intangibles that we need."

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