One of life's cruelest ironies is that the best way to truly appreciate something is to lose it for a while. Just ask Tennessee basketball player Kenny Hall.
Suspended for the final nine games of the Vols' 2011-12 season, the 6-foot-9 senior returned to the court for the first time in Monday night's opening session of the Rocky Top League. Although his team lost, he was all smiles afterward.
"It felt good to be out here playing, man," he said. "There's no better feeling."
Hall's enthusiasm was reflected in his play. He drove for layups. He soared for dunks. He nailed mid-range jumpers and even drained a couple of 3-pointers en route to a game-high 32 points.
"I've improved my scoring," he said. "I think I'm going to contribute a lot more on the scoring end, and I'm going to pick it up on the defensive end, as well."
Hall hit 54.0 percent of his shots last season but did not attempt a 3-pointer. He says that will change in the season ahead.
"You can see that I'm shooting the 3 here without hesitation," he said. "It's something I've been working on, as well as putting the ball on the floor. I've got to do a lot of that, too."
Hall won't say what he did to earn a suspension last February but he makes clear that he won't be doing it again. Watching his Tennessee teammates play the final nine games without him provided some valuable lessons.
"I learned that making the right decisions is important," he said. "Sacrificing is important, especially at the stage I'm at. I'm a senior now, so I've got to set a better example for the younger guys."
Hall says the suspension changed him, and that appears to be the case. Basketball seems more important to him than it did before.
"I would say that's a great way to put it," summer league teammate and former Vol Dane Bradshaw said. "That's not to say he didn't care before, but it looks like he cares more now. He's really competitive in a league that's typically more for fun. He was upset when we were behind, yet he was positive at the same time. I thought he showed a lot of heart. You can tell that he appreciates the opportunity to play."
Hall is a better man since the suspension but also a bigger man. He has added some much-needed bulk in recent months.
"I've put on between five and seven pounds. I'm up around 227 to 233," he said. "I'm a lot stronger in my hips, my core and my upper body."
During Hall's absence, 270-pound Jarnell Stokes and 265-pound Jeronne Maymon handled Tennessee's inside game. Hall will never be that big but he knows that bulk is vital in the paint.
"It's definitely important," he said. "As a big man, you've got to play big and strong down there (in the post). Gaining weight and being strong is important to my consistency."
WEDNESDAY'S ROCKY TOP RECAPS
Former Tennessee players Melvin Goins (28 points) and Cameron Tatum (25) led the Knoxville News-Sentinel to a 120-111 defeat of Rice Buick/GMC. Current Vol Yemi Makanjuola added 16. Former Vol Wayne Chism scored 18 for Rice. Current Vol Galen Campbell chipped in 16 and ex-Vol J.P. Prince 15.
Former Vol Bobby Maze fired in 32 points and current Vol Josh Richardson added23 as R. Larry Smith dumped Campus Lights 121-108. Tennessee's Skylar McBee contributed 12. Former Vol Tyler Smith scored 25 points and current Vol Kenny Hall 22 for Campus Lights. Dane Bradshaw added 16.
Current Vols Jordan McRae (27) and Quinton Chievous (23) handled the scoring for Choice Spine in a 115-96 defeat of DeRoyal Industries. Ex-Vol Isiah Victor chipped in 14. DeRoyal has no UT connections on its roster.