March 17, 2010
BY JOSH PATE
Kenny Hall was the first Tennessee basketball player to walk into the Ray Mears Room on Sunday afternoon. It was beginning to get crowded with alumni, donors and media all present to watch where the Vols would be seeded for their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.
Hall was the first player to grab a plate of chicken wings with chips and spinach dip. He was the first player to sit on the couches lined in front of two televisions and one projection screen. As a freshman on Tennessee's team, Hall was taking it all in.
"My first NCAA experience is going very good," Hall said. "We made it and we're going to try to take care of business and take it as far as we can take it."
The Vols will have a tall task. They open the NCAA tournament in Providence, R.I., on Thursday as a No. 6 seed facing 11th-seed San Diego State in a 9:45 p.m. ET tipoff. The winner faces either Georgetown or Ohio on Saturday.
Hall may be experiencing the postseason for the first time in college, but a season of the rocky SEC schedule along with tough non-conference preparation is a good notebook from which to work for a freshman.
Hall has averaged 4.0 points per game and 3.2 rebounds, ranking second among league freshmen with a 61.7 field goal percentage in SEC games. He's also not afraid to work hard away from Knoxville. In his first SEC road game he notched a double-double at Alabama with 12 points and 10 boards.
"For Kenny to be in the tournament now and it being his first time in the NCAA tournament, he came up to me and said, `I'm ready,'" said UT senior Wayne Chism. "He's never been in this position before and it's something new for Kenny. Kenny is always ready. He always tells me he's ready for anything."
Even the grueling turnaround schedule of postseason tournament play hasn't been too rough for Hall. Tennessee played three games in three days in the SEC Tournament in Nashville and will hope to play two games this weekend.
"In AAU, we were playing three and four games a day, three days a week," Hall said of how he's adjusting to tournament play. "So I'm just enjoying the ride. There's nothing that I didn't expect."
The one thing few players and coaches on the team expected was to be a 6 seed. Most projections and analysts had the Vols being as high as a 4 seed, but Saturday's loss to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament hurt Tennessee's standing in the NCAA tournament selection committee's eyes and UT slipped.
Head coach Bruce Pearl downplayed the seeding, noting that instead of being in the top 16 teams they were among the top 24. But Hall and others felt a little slighted.
"I look at some people's records and I look at ours and wonder how they got a better seed that we got," Hall said. "At the end of the day, it's all politics. We're in a pretty good position to take care of business and hopefully we'll do that.
"I'm excited to play San Diego State, do what we have to do, take care of business and then advance on to the next round. I want to keep on going."
Chism said that's just like Hall, to keep aiming to get better.
"Kenny always wants to be the best and he's going to try his best out there for us," Chism said. "I can't wait to see what he does in the tournament."