Feb. 6, 2012
Kenny Hall considers it a last-minute cram session, if you will. Let's call it a mini scouting report.
During the first few minutes of each game, Hall is typically sitting on the bench just down from Tennessee head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin. For the first 14 games of his junior season, Hall was on the floor at the start of each game as a starter. In fact, he jumped the ball for the Volunteers. But to begin Southeastern Conference play against Florida, Hall sat.
Martin shuffled the starting lineup prior to Tennessee's SEC opener, and Hall went from starting forward to bench player.
"It wasn't really difficult because I understand. I understand why I wasn't starting anymore," Hall said. "It turned out to be for the better because I was coming off the bench with a lot more energy. As far as that goes, I don't mind coming off the bench."
The lineup change, Martin said, was to put Tennessee's five best defensive players on the court. And it worked. The Vols upset then-No. 13 Florida 67-56.
Hall responded, too. He had a season-high 13 points coming off the bench.
"I don't try to do things to wake a guy up," Martin said following the Florida win. "I give them opportunities to be successful and do the things you need to do. Once I make moves, I make them. It's not for sound bites, a scare tactic. We make decisions, and that's what we're going with."
The change hasn't bothered Hall one bit. He scored 12 points at Mississippi State, then 8 against Kentucky. He's simply responded positively to what some onlookers would call a demotion.
"I don't really think it's too much of a difference other than the fact that I'm not jumping and I'm coming off the bench," said Hall, who is from Los Angeles but played high school ball in Stone Mountain, Ga. "As far as my mentality, I still go in with the same mentality, I think."
Coming in as a sub, Hall said, actually has given him an advantage by allowing him to scout out what the opponent's post players are doing in the paint.
"Starting off on the bench gives me a chance to see how the opponents are playing and see how the bigs are scoring, what kind of angles they like to get," Hall said. "From watching that, I get to come in and just contribute."
Hall said he recognizes his role has changed, not just since this season began but overall as the Vols have relied on a more disperse scoring attack. Prior to the Florida game, Hall averaged 6.6 points per game. In the first five games coming off the bench, he boosted his scoring up to 7.1 points.
In the big picture, Hall knows he's expected to produce more this year compared to previous seasons.
"The only difference this year is I'm playing more and have a bigger role than I did last year," Hall said. "I don't think I really was expected to do too much last year. I was expected to come in and give other guys rest. This year, I'm actually expected to score and rebound and contribute."
Those expectations have transformed into hard work for Hall and the rest of the Volunteers. No matter the win-loss record, the common denominator for this team has been the characteristic of hard work. Hall admitted it's nice to have that tagged next to the team's efforts.
"It feels good because of the fact that people are noticing how hard we're working," Hall said just before the Vols pulled off another upset victory against defending national champion Connecticut. "I appreciate the fact that they do notice that. Now we have to do our best to keep that up and win some games."
If the team-first attitude Hall took during his in-season transition is infectious, those wins should come.