It's been about five months since the news broke moments before a meeting between Tennessee and Arkansas at Thomspon-Boling Arena.
Kenny Hall, a 6-foot-8 forward averaging 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Vols, was suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. He missed the season's final nine games, including four postseason affairs.
Hall has rarely been seen or heard from since his Feb. 15 suspension. That is, until Monday night.
Anchoring the frontline of Campus Lights on the opening night of the Pilot Rocky Top League, Hall returned to play in front of Tennessee fans. With an array of dunks and a handful of midrange jumpers, the senior-to-be scored a game-high 32 points in a 124-117 loss to Rice Buick GMC at Bearden High School.
"It's a good feeling just to be back out here and playing basketball — just to be back in the gym and playing at a game pace," Hall said before tipoff. "My last game was against Florida. I just can't reiterate enough how good of a feeling it is just to be around my team."
Hall was reinstated by UT coach Cuonzo Martin soon after the season ended. He was given the chore of reestablishing himself on a team aiming for the NCAA tournament.
According to Hall and his teammates, there have been no detours on the road to redemption.
"I just took that whole experience, took my time and matured," Hall said.
Fellow Vols Jeronne Maymon and Trae Golden, both on-hand at Monday night but out of action due to recent surgeries, echoed the sentiment.
"He's the same guy, same person, just with a better attitude," said Maymon, UT's leading returning scorer. "Nothing has changed, except that he has a new outlook on life."
"If you get a second chance, you don't take it for granted," Golden added. "That's what I feel like he's doing. He's been doing everything the right way. I applaud him for it. He's being a senior."
The last time UT fans saw Hall, he scored eight points in a key road victory at No. 8 Florida.
On Monday, inside the boiler room at Bearden, Hall was primarily opposed by former UT star Wayne Chism (team-high 25 points for Rice). He held his own. The jumper looked soft. His footwork around the basket was better. He attacked the rim off the dribble.
Hall said his offseason routine has relied on strength and conditioning training in the morning, along with shooting and post moves in the afternoon.
That effort, he said, has only been a piece of the work.
"I didn't only want to develop my game on the court, but also develop as a man off the court," Hall said. "I need to be a stand-up guy, a role model to the newcomers and a leader for my team."
One Tennessee newcomer, freshman Derek Reese, made three 3-pointers and scored 15 points playing alongside Hall.
In other action:
DeRoyal Industries 87, News Sentinel 86: A driving layup by James "Boo" Jackson (11 points) in the final seconds gave DeRoyal a narrow victory in the opening gamet. The late bucket erased a game-high 25-point effort by News Sentinel's Cameron Tatum, who played for UT this past season. ETSU's Lester Wilson led DeRoyal with 21. Yemi Makanjuola of UT added 13 for News Sentinel.
Larry Smith Insurance 133, Choice Spine 129: Former UT guard Bobby Maze poured in 44 points to carry R. Larry Smith. Current UT players Josh Richardson and Skylar McBee added 18 and 17, respectively. Choice Spine took the loss despite a combined 61 points from UT's Jordan McRae (31) and Quinton Chievous (30).
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn.