Kenny Hall survived 'politics of college basketball' for Vols

Wade Payne/Special to the News Sentinel
Tennessee senior Kenny Hall poses for a portrait Friday.

Photo by Wade Payne, copyright © 2013

Wade Payne/Special to the News Sentinel Tennessee senior Kenny Hall poses for a portrait Friday.

Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall started as suite mates

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At this time last year, Kenny Hall was but a ghost.

At this time two years ago, Tennessee basketball was about to become a skeleton.

“The program has certainly had its ups and downs since I’ve been here and I’ve certainly had my ups and downs,” Hall said after a Thursday afternoon practice, looking out over a near-empty gym. “That’s part of life — it’s a rollercoaster. All that matters is how you respond.”

As it has been for four years, Hall and the Vols responded together.

Slapped with a season-ending suspension for the final nine games of his junior year in 2011-12, Hall didn’t run away.

Smacked with an NCAA investigation and an ensuing wash out of a coaching staff and talent at the end of 2010-11, Hall’s sophomore year, Tennessee found the tools to rebuild.

Now, both have the opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament.

“There are no words to describe the feeling of having a chance to get back to the tournament,” said Hall, who began his career riding in the back seat on the Vols’ trip to the Elite Eight.

Today’s Tennessee-Missouri game is Hall’s Senior Day and he’s the first to acknowledge the facts.

There have been highlights.

There have been lowlights.

Hall says he learned the “politics of college basketball” in a freshman season of varying playing time. He stepped up when suspension ravaged the UT roster in a tumultuous sophomore season. After seeing former coach Bruce Pearl and staff exit the basketball office that offseason, he started most of his junior season before being suspended by Pearl’s replacement, Cuonzo Martin, for an unrevealed violation.

That’s when everything hung in limbo. Would Hall come back? Would Hall be welcomed back?

“It would have been easy for them to just kick me off the team and dismiss me, but the fact that they kept me around, stayed in my ear and stayed positive through the whole situation, that right there showed me a lot,” said Hall, who was born in Los Angeles, but came to UT from Stone Mountain, Ga., just outside Atlanta. “There are some things that you feel in your heart. It felt right to stay.”

So he did.

And Martin allowed him to.

“Kenny is a good guy, a really nice guy,” the Tennessee coach said Thursday. “His mom did a good job raising him. There’s really no character issue with Kenny. He just had some minor setbacks.”

Kimberly Hall will lock arms with her son a little before 4 o’clock this afternoon. They’ll walk together to center court at Thompson-Boling Arena. Pictures. Cheers. Hugs.

“It’s crazy,” Hall said, letting a long pause hang in the air. “There was a point in time when I never considered going to college, let alone graduating from college and doing the stuff I’ve done. Really, the biggest blessing for me will be seeing that smile on my mom’s face.”

Then Hall will look to do his part in the Vols’ season-defining finale.

His senior year hasn’t been storybook. Hall was replaced as a starter after 21 games. His minutes and stats dropped as Martin veered toward a four-guard lineup. On Feb. 8, he was arrested for driving under a suspended license, an incident Martin deemed minor, levying no penalty.

Through it all, Hall has said all the right things. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game. Teammates and coaches call him one of the team’s leaders.

Win or lose, Hall will leave the Thompson-Boling Arena floor today as a walking metaphor of Tennessee basketball.

He stirred some storms, endured others, and came out dry.

“All along, I never wanted to leave Tennessee,” he said.

Hall will participate in UT’s commencement ceremony in May. He’ll complete his degree after two summer courses.

And after that?

Hall shrugged.

“I guess I’m free.”

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 16

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say its not always about points scored on the court and we forget(well the idiots of us) these are kids growing up. Witch Doctor proud you are a VOL!
Bones never lie.

underthehill writes:

Martin may have made a huge diffence in the life of a player by knowing how to discipline him effectively and knowing how important it is for him to graduate..Well done..both Martin and Hall..

Cash writes:

Life is just beginning young man. Keep your head up, always moving forward and make positive decisions.

I for one always liked your intensity.
Now go out and put the smackdown on Mizz.

Go Kenny
Go VOLS

Ichabod writes:

Kenny is a Vol. I'll Never forget the video from his freshman year where CBP jokingly called him out for eating a snack in the locker room after a big win. He was a good kid, no different than most of us at that age. He is the type of leader we need heading into March. Thank you, Kenny - and CONGRATS on that Degree !!!

TommyJack writes:

Best of luck to him

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Best of luck to Kenny Hall. A Tennessee Senior, ready to hug his mama on Senior Day and get his degree. Hey, I love UT basketball, but there are some things I love even more.

tnvol4ever writes:

Would have been very easy for this young man too quit.
Hats off to Conzo for believing in him and Kenny's mom for all she did in raising a strong willed son. Most of all congrats to Kenny!
Kenny can definetly be a difference maker the rest of the season if he plays the way he's capable of playing.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Nice story. Kenny, college is fun really for most. I hope your lessons endure. BTW You aren't "free" unless you make a lot of money and then someone still will try to control...never mind. You're free after college.

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

That video is great.

Teresa writes:

Congrats, Kenny. You've got a sweet shot & you did us & your mom proud. The degree is just awesome. I'm proud of and for you.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

ESPN you are great today. Thanks.

BigBadVol writes:

Agree with all the post so far. Nice to see Kenny grow up with a staff that gets it.

johnlg00 writes:

Ups and downs pretty much says it all. I'm glad he is that close to getting his degree; now he just needs to be SURE he does that last little bit. IMHO, it was his frequent tendency not to do that "last little bit" on the floor that would have made him a great player instead of an occasionally serviceable one. He did some good things on the floor today against Mizzou. He could be the difference in some more big games down the road. I know you have been through a lot, Kenny; now just bear down and finish strong!

TNVol71 writes:

Best of luck to you, Kenny. It has been great to see your development through the years. You still have great opportunities in front of you in both basketball and life. Bring us a championship! Go Vols!!

miatatom writes:

Thanks for your effort and loyalty Kenny, we'll miss you.

ktownvol writes:

Wonder where his mom was at the Senior Day ceremony? It was big of Jarone and Trae to step up and walk with him -- broke my heart for him to be alone with no family there!!

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