J.P. Prince gave Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl just what he wanted Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. But he didn't give the fans what he thought they wanted.
So he was quick to apologize after UT's 89-62 rout of Louisiana.
He apologized for his dunks. All of them.
Don't get the wrong idea. He didn't miss a dunk. He just eliminated the theatrics.
"I apologize to the fans," Prince said with a smile. "I couldn't give them any highlight dunks."
His ankles wouldn't allow it.
UT's 6-foot-7 guard missed the last three games with an ankle injury. And although he wasn't at full speed against the Ragin' Cajuns, his return to action was an encouraging sign for the 14th-ranked Vols.
In 14 minutes, Prince had eight points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field. He also added a steal and blocked shot.
Since he was dunking with discretion, the steal might have been his most impressive highlight.
La'Ryan Gary appeared to be on his way to a second-half basket when he noticed something missing. With a well-timed flick of the hand, Prince had deprived Gary of the basketball while setting up a UT fast break.
"I understand the game," Prince said. "Even at 75 percent, I can outsmart some opponents."
Prince also gives a young UT team another experienced player. And no one appreciates that more than Pearl.
"He was 75 percent ready, but it was good to have him back," Pearl said.
This isn't Prince's first comeback. He had off-season shoulder surgery, then injured his other shoulder in preseason practice. He also has injured both ankles.
"He has fought back courageously from injuries," Pearl said.
Although Prince played well, he played with caution against Louisiana.
"I didn't want to put any stress on my ankles," he said.
Despite his handicap, Prince wasn't kind in his self-evaluation.
"I was pretty rusty," he said. "I give it about a D-plus. My explosion wasn't there."
And he didn't get any extra points for style points. But he was tempted.
He figured he owed it to the crowd.
Never mind the holiday season. Or an inferior opponent. A crowd of 21,863 showed up at the arena.
"They caught me off guard," Prince said. "They showed up a little late. They did the Lakers stuff.
"Fans don't realize that when they show up at games like this where we are expected to win, they bring an energy. They don't realize how much they help us in the game."
Prince wanted to pay them back. But he didn't yield to the temptation.
On each of his dunk opportunities, Prince had something more spectacular planned. Each time, he restrained himself, scoring on a couple of conventional dunks and a reverse layup.
"On the first one, I would have done a left-handed windmill," he said. "On the second one, I would have done a two-hander, but I would have jumped higher. On the third one, I probably would have tried a reverse windmill."
A fan apparently read Prince's mind on his third dunk opportunity. As Prince was going to the basket, he heard a fan yelling, "Reverse it."
He smiled at the thought of a reverse windmill dunk and the impact it would have had on the crowd.
"Maybe I can do it against Kansas (on Saturday)," he said with a smile.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.