A funny thing happened on the way to Kenny Hall's breakout sophomore season.
There was offseason surgery and an injury.
There was an unexpected arrival of a transfer senior at his position.
And there was perhaps a bit of overconfidence.
Thus, as the 6-foot-8 center's quiet sophomore season winds down, he's anxiously awaiting his breakout junior season.
"Oh, yeah,'' Hall said Thursday. "All this bench-riding right now, man, I'm gonna take it out on 'em next year.''
He'd rather take it out on Georgia on Saturday, but that probably won't happen.
The Vols (16-10, 6-5 SEC) play host to the Bulldogs (17-8, 6-5) at 1 p.m. (TV: WVLT)
"It's been a really tough year for him,'' UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "Kenny got put in a tough spot.''
Hall played in 35 games as a freshman. He averaged 12.4 minutes, 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds.
His three starts came in SEC games. He produced 12 points and 10 rebounds at Alabama.
This year, Hall has played in 18 of 26 games, averaging only 6.1 minutes, 2.0 points and 1.6 rebounds.
The wild card was the arrival of John Fields, a senior transfer from UNC Wilmington.
When Fields came on the market back in the summer, Pearl said both Hall and freshman forward Tobias Harris were in walking boots due to foot surgery. Thus, Tennessee took Fields, who has started 11 games and averages 13 minutes, to complement senior Brian Williams.
"Which really put Kenny in a tough spot,'' Pearl said, "because there's not much difference in the two of them.Kenny is better offensively. John brings a little bit more energy.''
Hall said the foot surgery, compounded by an ankle injury soon after practice opened, also was a setback.
But the coaching staff points some of the responsibility back at Hall.
"Knowing Wayne (Chism) was gone,'' said Pearl, "Kenny probably thought he could just walk into the position. And he can't.
"I don't think he worked hard enough in the offseason to take that step from being a promising freshman to a sophomore that's ready to step in.''
If so, Hall won't repeat the mistake. Despite the lack of playing time, he says he's a better player than this time a year ago.
"I'm more aggressive,'' he said. "I'm a lot more stronger and quicker. I've got a wide range of moves compared to what I had last year.''
He just doesn't get to show it much. There was a flash Wednesday night. In seven minutes against South Carolina, Hall had a basket and three rebounds.
"(Sitting) would be tough for anybody that's a competitor,'' Hall said. "I didn't come here to be a bench-warmer.''
In that respect, he has some well-heeled company.
UT's "scout team" on Thursday consisted of five four-star recruits, all of whom were in the top 75 of their signing class: Hall, Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Trae Golden and Renaldo Woolridge.
"I was telling Brian and some other players, this is not like a regular practice,'' Hall said. "It's like you're playing a game against another D-I school.''
Said Pearl, "My heart aches for those guys. They played well (Thursday).
"It looked like five guys who will be playing a lot for us next year.''
This year, however, Hall and the rest are sitting a lot.
Recruiting: At least two post recruits have offers from Tennessee, according to reports. Stan Simpson of John A. Logan College in Illinois has been offered, according to hoops247.com. Memphis, Gonzaga and Kentucky are among others involved. Lekan Ajayi, a senior at Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C., has an offer and plans to make a visit to UT when his father comes over from Nigeria, he told zagsblog.com. Florida, Seton Hall and Loyola Marymount are other prospective visits.