That's why 6-9 junior Wayne Chism is being counted on for more than points, rebounds and post defense this year. He's being counted on for maturity and leadership. In last Friday night's exhibition finale vs. Tusculum, he and Tyler Smith were the only scholarship holdovers from 2007-08 to see action. That felt downright weird.
“It's different big-time,” Chism conceded. “Me and Tyler out there playing with different people is like in high school, when you're playing with a couple of freshmen that turn the ball over a lot.”
Smith has 35 career starts, ranking second to Chism in that category. The next-most experienced Vols are Josh Tabb (3 starts), J.P. Prince (2), Brian Williams and Ryan Childress (1 each).
Because he and Smith are surrounded by so many inexperienced teammates, Chism understands that mistakes are inevitable and that there are a lot of growing pains in Tennessee's immediate future.
“You can get frustrated,” he said. “But we didn't get frustrated; we picked 'em up. They played D and rebounded, so they came on pretty good.”
As is the case with most freshmen, Tennessee's rookies are rambunctious on offense and challenged on defense.
“We've got a lot to teach in practice,” Chism said. “We've got to pick up our defense. Last year we played defense, and this year we've got to get to that point.”
One advantage of having a roster filled with freshmen is the infusion of youthful enthusiasm they provide. Tennessee rode this enthusiasm to a 40-2 start Friday night vs. Tusculum. Once the game was in hand, however, the freshmen lost their focus a bit. As a result, the visiting Pioneers actually outscored the Big Orange after halftime.
“It was offensive rebounds,” Chism surmised. “If they got them offensive rebounds, they'd kick it out or they'd go to the free-throw line off offensive rebounds ... either plus-ones or shooting two shots. Our defense was good but we gave up the rebounds and loose balls.”
When informed that the towering Vols were out-rebounded by the Div. II Pioneers, Chism was incredulous.
“We did?” he said. “By how many?”
Told that Tusculum won the backboard battle by two, 43-41, he flashed his trademark grin and quipped, “Don't put that in there (game story).”
Rarely seen without a big smile on his face, Chism ranks among the most happy-go-lucky players in Vol history. So, losing the backboard battle to a team the caliber of Tusculum was no big deal.
“One time I think there was like four freshmen out there,” he said. “Having more freshmen out there can bother you. They're still learning to box out, how to check out and try to go find the ball.”
Likewise, Wayne Chism is still learning how to behave as the “old man” of the Tennessee roster.