John Fields has something to prove tonight.
The Tennessee senior transfer from UNC-Wilmington is returning to his home state as the No. 7-ranked Vols (7-1) play at Charlotte (4-6) at 8 p.m. in Time Warner Cable Arena, home of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
The game will be televised by the CBS College Sports.
"This is a game I've looked forward to for a long time because Charlotte was one of the in-state schools that didn't recruit me coming out of high school,'' said Fields, who went to East Carolina coming out of Fayetteville, N.C., before transferring to UNC-Wilmington and UT. "It's my first chance to match up with them, head to head.''
Fields has been a key contributor to the Vols' early success, most notably in UT's 83-76 win at then-No. 3 Pittsburgh when he had five points, five rebounds and two blocked shots in 16 minutes.
"He's really had an impact in several games,'' said coach Bruce Pearl, who uses the 6-foot-9, 222-pound Fields to back up starting senior post Brian Williams. "John could be playing 30 minutes somewhere else, but he wanted to come to Tennessee and play at Madison Square Garden and Pittsburgh and compete at the highest level.''
UT, currently No. 6 in the RPI ratings with the sixth most difficult schedule in the nation, was Fields' top pick once he decided to transfer for his final year of eligibility.
"There were some ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) possibilities, but UNC-Wilmington stopped a lot of that contact with the (provisions of) the release,'' Fields said. "I think (coach) Buzz Peterson heard some talk about Wake Forest and some other teams on their schedule, and he stopped that.
"He didn't know Tennessee was in the mix.''
Peterson, who served as the Vols' coach 2001-2005, is in his first year as UNC-Wilmington's head coach.
"There was actually a lot of thought given to whether we'd take John; at the time Tobias (Harris) and Kenny (Hall) were both battling foot injuries,'' Pearl said. "It was the right thing to do for us.
"But another part of the decision had to do with John's personality. He's a VolScholar, and he's very mature and polite.''
Fields' easy-going disposition vanishes on the floor; he's best known for his high-energy defense and aggressive play around the basket.
"My adjustment to this level is going well, but I feel I need to be more productive scoring, maybe get two or three buckets a game,'' said Fields, who's averaging 3.8 points and 14 minutes played per contest.
"But what I really want is to get to my first NCAA tournament, and I'm eager to play in the SEC tournament,'' he said. "I feel this team has another ceiling we can reach.''
The Vols look to bounce back from Tuesday night's 89-82 upset loss to Oakland (6-5).
Both Pearl and Fields have their reasons for wanting that to happen in Charlotte tonight.
"I'd love to recruit in North Carolina more,'' Pearl said. "We have a great fan base there, and they have tremendous high school and prep school programs.
"It's ACC country, but we're one of the closest SEC schools to North Carolina.''
For Fields, it's about having the opportunity to play college basketball in his home state for what might be the final time.
"Charlotte is the Queen City, and it's where you go to show your talents in Carolina,'' Fields said. "That city breathes basketball.''
Charlotte holds a 4-6 record against Top 25 teams over the past three years, including a 2-2 mark in games played in Charlotte.
The 49ers have promoted a "black out" for fans in the arena this evening, and UT has granted their request to wear their white uniforms on the road rather than their traditional road orange.
Schedule Note: The Vols will play at Oakland next season before the Golden Grizzlies return for a game in the 2012-2013 season to complete the 2-for-1 scheduling deal.
Also, ESPN announced Thursday that the Big East Conference and the SEC have reached an agreement for 12 members from each of the two conferences to play in a men's college basketball inter-conference Challenge the week after Thanksgiving starting in 2011.
The new BIG EAST/SEC Challenge format features 12 games over three days beginning on the Thursday after Thanksgiving of each year. All 12 games each year will be played at home campus sites with each conference hosting six games a year. SEC teams will alternate home and away games.