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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Article on Memphian Dane Bradshaw Playing for the Vols

Bradshaw taking last shot
Vols senior hoping to follow through after big game last season vs. Tigers

By Scott Cacciola
December 5, 2006

In less than a week last season, Tennessee forward Dane Bradshaw discovered just how delicate life on the hardwood can be.

He returned home to play the University of Memphis at FedExForum on Jan. 18 and lived the dream. He scored a career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He grabbed 10 rebounds. He finished with four assists and five steals. Looking back, he said, "I got a few easy buckets early, started to get into a rhythm." In a classic understatement, he said he was motivated to play well in his hometown.

"It was nothing personal against Memphis," he said.

Three days later, in a victory over Florida, Bradshaw tore a ligament in his right wrist, which happens to be connected to his shooting hand. After the injury, he missed 10 straight 3-pointers. He wore an assortment of soft casts and bandages for the remainder of the season, playing through pain, then underwent surgery in March.

Healthy once again, and aware that his college career is drawing inexorably to a close in a few months, Bradshaw would love to replicate last season's performance against Memphis when the two teams meet at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday -- though he knows better. Bradshaw has never been a scorer, even when he starred at White Station High, where he averaged 10 points per game as a senior. At Tennessee, he has carved a niche as one of the smallest (6-4) power forwards in the country.

"We know that on paper it looks like a disadvantage," said Bradshaw, a senior who averages 7.4 points, four rebounds and a team-leading 4.6 assists. "But I'm able to front the post. And I don't think bigger players enjoy guards who are swiping at the ball all the time."

Bradshaw has given up inches to the best of the best: Florida's Joakim Noah, LSU's Tyrus Thomas and Brandon Bass, North Carolina's Brandan Wright. If he can hold his own on defense, he said, he knows the Vols will benefit from mismatches on offense. Bradshaw can drift to the perimeter and extend defenses, clearing the paint for teammates.

"He's the best passer I've ever been around," said Evangelical Christian School coach Terry Tippett, who coached Bradshaw at White Station.

He was taught from an early age to take care of the ball, and he said that lesson was reinforced by Tippett, whom Bradshaw credits for a great deal of his development. Last season, Bradshaw led the Southeastern Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio -- despite wearing the cast.

He was limited during the offseason. He shot free throws with his left hand. He focused on his defense. He completed his communications degree in three years, graduating in May, and expects to finish his master's in sports management by the end of the school year.

Over the summer, he and junior teammate Chris Lofton set the tone for the Vols' ballyhooed freshman class. Every Saturday morning, Bradshaw and Lofton made their way to Neyland Stadium, where they met the team's strength and conditioning coach, Troy Wills, at the base of the stadium steps. They donned 25-pound weight vests and then made 15 trips up to the concourse level and back down again. By the end of the offseason, every member of the team had joined them.

"We had plenty of weight vests to go around," Bradshaw said.

One of Bradshaw's personal highlights of the summer was when freshman Josh Tabb, who also wore a cast on his fractured wrist, arrived for a Saturday workout. Then it started to rain. Tabb, his voice dripping with insincerity, told Bradshaw that he, alas, would not be able to run the steps that morning. He was supposed to keep his cast dry. Bradshaw ran to his car and returned with a plastic bag, which he tied around Tabb's cast. Tabb ran the steps.

"The biggest difference those workouts made for me was mental," Bradshaw said. "When you're fatigued, when you don't think you can make it up and down the court one last trip, I think about how hard those workouts were."

The Vols (6-2) have played well, with the notable exception of the team's trip to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off last month. Tennessee lost to Butler by 12 and to North Carolina by 14. Bradshaw can sense his younger teammates' growing pains, even as he tries to nudge them along.

"We're a confident team, but we realize it's a learning process for all of us, being so young," he said. "I never take any opportunities for granted. And one thing I'm trying to tell these young kids is how fast it'll come for them. I think we may have learned that the hard way in New York."

-- Scott Cacciola: 529-2773


No. 16 Tigers at Tennessee

When, where: Wednesday, 8 p.m. CST, at Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville


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