KNOXVILLE — As nice as the moniker may sound, Kenny Hall prefers a partially different label than new and improved.
For the University of Tennessee forward, he's the same old Kenny Hall, even with a new coaching staff and an overhauled roster creating a different set of circumstances this offseason for the Volunteers' basketball program.
“Like any other offseason, this is no different from any other one [in] the way I approach it,” Hall said last week after a Rocky Top Summer League game at Knoxville's Bearden High School. “I approach it as a chance to get better, for myself and for the team. This year is different because they want me to step up and play that leader role. That'll be the only difference. I'm just trying to get better.”
For the 6-foot-8, 225-pound rising junior, the training regimen has remained mostly the same: 6 a.m. wake-up calls six days a week to get some shots up or lift weights and return visits to the gym or weight room later in the day.
It may sound similar to the rigorous schedule that Tobias Harris, who became the Vols' first NBA draft pick in nine years when he was taken 19th overall by Milwaukee on Thursday night, used for his freshman season at UT. But Hall views it differently.
“I'm trying to take on the Kenny Hall regiment,” he said. “I've been doing this since I've been here, so this is nothing new.”
Hall's hard work isn't lost on his teammates either, who have joined Hall in running the steps in Neyland Stadium this offseason.
“Kenny's been working hard,” rising sophomore wing Jordan McRae said. “He's always worked hard, but this the hardest I've ever seen him work as far as the weights [and] getting up in the morning and running. He's just trying to get in shape and get bigger because he knows it's a big test for him this year.”
What is new for Hall is his role for the Vols. As UT's truest and most experienced returning post player, Hall likely will see as many minutes as he can handle next year. A foot injury late in fall camp last year knocked Hall out of the race with seniors Brian Williams and John Fields for a spot in the center rotation for former UT coach Bruce Pearl.
Hall didn't get off the bench in nine games last season, averaging just two points and 1.8 rebounds in seven minutes. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native played in all but two games as a freshman and averaged nearly four points and three rebounds in more than 12 minutes per game.
“That's all that was is motivation,” Hall said of last season’s trials. “That's just putting fire in my tank and making me more hungry. Going through the season with them playing in front of me, it was tough.”
Hall's situation is similar to the rest of new coach Cuonzo Martin's new-look Vols after the departures of five role-playing seniors and the team's two best players, Harris and leading scorer Scotty Hopson. Of UT's returning players, only senior guard Cameron Tatum has seen consistent playing time.
Well aware of the situation, Hall has focused on preparing for his expanded role by focusing on his low-post offensive game and touch around the basket. He's also trying to add weight — his goal is to weigh 240 pounds by the start of camp — to enhance his rebounding.
The Rocky Top League has given Hall and the rest of the Vols the chance to play against someone other than themselves. Hall has battled 6-foot-9 Boo Jackson, a 28-year-old overseas veteran who played collegiately at Eastern Michigan and last year as a professional in China. Jackson shared some advice with Hall after the two dueled last week.
After playing in Turkey and the NBA Development League last season, former UT center Wayne Chism has also been in Knoxville during the offseason while awaiting his next pro destination. Hall, who was a freshman when Chism was a senior, credited Chism in his own development as a player.
“Kenny's getting better,” Chism said. “He's in shape, and he's doing a lot of things in the gym to get himself better. He's in the weight room — that's the biggest thing Kenny needed to do. You can see he's getting bigger and stronger, so a lot of people aren't pushing him [around] like they used to. He's doing a lot better now, [and] he's going to turn out to be good big man.”
Not a new big man, but an improved one.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...