Tennessee, NCAA and Drew Pember

Marvin Westwestwords

I and others who are no longer midnight owls have been fretting about tonight’s tipoff time for Tennessee basketball against Louisiana – 9:40 or sometime thereafter, in Orlando, on CBS-TV and the Vol Network.

North Carolina-Asheville, ex-Vol Drew Pember’s team in the NCAA West regional, has a worse draw – 10:05 p.m. against UCLA in Sacramento. It will be on truTV.

You’ve probably heard Pember mentioned from time to time. He has developed from “tall” on a state championship team at Bearden High to insignificant spare part at Tennessee to stardom in Asheville, outstanding on defense, player of the year in the Big South Conference.

Drew does not have (or get) to go nose-to-nose against Kansas or Alabama or Purdue but he probably could. He is a fraction short of 6-11 and right at 200. He is a reliable passer and an outstanding rim protector.

If he has a professional future, weight and strength are the pivot points. He can shoot.

Back in January, he scored 48 against Presbyterian. How he responded to accolades said a lot about his Carson-Newman parents, Allison (volleyball) and Donny (baskets).

Pember hit his first six 3-point attempts and notched a seventh plus six other points before intermission. He settled for 21 in the second half.

“I don’t achieve anything without my teammates,” Pember said. “My teammates gave me great passes, set great screens and were able to get me the ball where I had a chance to score.”

This season, he averaged 21.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, hit 37.3 percent on 3-pointers and 46 from the field.

The record 48 wasn’t a fluke. He had two other games with more than 40 points. He scored 29 in the conference tournament and was MVP. Last year: His signature performance was against Radford – 41 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks. 11-19 on field goals, 4-6 on long shots and 15 of 16 free throws.

One other incident tells you some of who Drew is. He did not “big time” the Bulldogs when he moved to Asheville.

“He was very humble in his approach. He wasn’t like ‘I’m a high-major guy; I’m doing you a favor,’” said coach Mike Morrell.

When he asked Pember’s goals, he said he just wanted to play.

That was the problem at Tennessee. In two seasons, he was on the floor less than 30 minutes. He wasn’t strong enough to do what Rick Barnes wanted in practice. He still isn’t strong enough to so do all the things he could.

He isn’t soft and he certainly isn’t afraid, but UCLA may push him around. We’ll see.

There’s at least one Ragin’ Cajun who will try to push some Tennessee people around. A big part of Louisiana star Jordan Brown’s game is securing a favorable position. Whether he can do it may depend on the whistles.

Just guessing Olivier Nkamhoua may guard him some. Olivier said: “I’ve looked at the film. I am curious to learn what his game will really be like on the court.”

Tough Tobe Awaka has been looking at a lot of video, too. He says Jordan is very good with both hands.

Can you imagine Jordan Brown pushing around Uros Plavsic?

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]


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