The Great Dane
Buzz was right about Bradshaw
by Tony Basilio
Everybody wonders if Erik Ainge can get it back. That’s a great question considering David Cutcliffe, the QB master, is now on the scene. Can’t you see Cutcliffe now? “Wax on Erik-son, Wax off.” If Ainge needs an object lesson in resurrecting a career, he needs to attend a UT basketball game and watch No. 23.
Dane Bradshaw arrived on UT’s campus as a highly decorated prospect out of Memphis White Station High School. A literal cache of awards and honors came with him. He was the 2003 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year while logging AP All-State first team honors as both a junior and senior. More importantly, he was highly regarded as a winner who collected three state championships in high school.
Even though he had great credentials, including Most Valuable Player Honors in helping his team win the ‘03 Class AAA State Championship, Bradshaw had his doubters. He was too big, apparently too slow, and had picked a really bad time to matriculate to Knoxville.
When Bradshaw made his UT debut, fanswere mostly heard all over town saying, “We took Dane over Lee?” Lee, as in Humphrey, was another ’03 in-state prospect. Humphrey was a tremendous shooter from Maryville who ended up signing with Florida. That Humphrey played significant minutes for a flourishing program didn’t aid Bradshaw’s plight. Humphrey and Bradshaw were in the same class, yet Buzz Peterson saw something in Bradshaw that made him more desirable. Truth is, Peterson never really gave Humphrey a second look.
Tennessee took a verbal commitment from Bradshaw during his junior season. Vol fans now had several opportunities to see what they thought was “Not So Great Dane” during his junior and senior seasons. Less than favorable reviews were commonplace on talk radio and the internet. Due to his almost unheard of early verbal commitment and Humphrey’s emergence in Maryville, Bradshaw seemed in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There certainly was a lot wrong with the Buzz Peterson tenure, but give ole Buzzy Boy some credit. He was right about Dane Bradshaw. When he first signed him, Peterson would tell all who listened that the Memphian was a player who transcended the box score. He sold him to UT faithful as a prospect who made his teammates better. He would compare him to Tom Coverdale, a tough, burly, Caucasian guard who had just led Indiana to the ’03 Final Four. There was just one problem with Buzz’s talent evaluation. It would be up to him and his crummy coaching staff to make his talent evaluation of Dane stand up.
Dane looked at times like the personification of a Great Dane at UT during his first couple of years. Oversized, slow, plodding, lost and yet tough. He was too big and gangly to be effective at the point. He was too slow to create a shot, while not being a very skilled shooter even when open. He looked to be, at times, a quality NCAA Division II prospect. Full disclosure here, I doubted the wisdom of signing Bradshaw before and during the first two years of his UT career. Coming into this season, I regarded Dane Bradshaw as a young guy who was in over his head. In retrospect it was his coaching staff that was past itself.
Kind of makes you wonder about Erik Ainge and Randy Sanders from this past season, doesn’t it? Under Bruce Pearl, Bradshaw looks like, well, a Tom Coverdale type player. Buzz was wrong on so many levels, but he was right on this one. Pearl’s system and UT’s lack of numbers has turned Dane into a jack of all trades, master of none and has allowed his leadership skills to emerge. It is simply the perfect place and time for him to emerge during his career. Check out his line versus Appalachian State on Dec. 6th in the Tommy Bowl. The 6-foot-4 Bradshaw played 31 minutes, mostly at power forward, where he led UT with 10 rebounds. The next closest Vol collected only 4 boards. Bradshaw also had 6 assists, which again was the best night any Vol had in that category. He posted 3 blocks (you got it, team leader) and one steal. He dominated the game while only netting four points.
It isn’t just the Appy State game where Bradshaw has made his mark. Of the 11 statistical categories that UT tracks, Bradshaw has recorded 7 single-game career highs under Bruce Pearl. Forget “Great” or “Not So Great,” Bradshaw is college basketball’s version of Lazarus.
If Buzz Peterson was still coaching at UT, Bradshaw would still be in the tomb and never get a chance to show the player that was inside of him.Maybe the “Not So Agile” Ainge will get it back after all.
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