Chris Lofton is usually considered to be the face of the Bruce Pearl Era, and rightfully so. Lofton is the best three point shooter in the history of the SEC, and his rise to stardom ran parallel to Pearl's arrival in Knoxville.
But Lofton was a Buzz Peterson recruit, who played his freshman year under our previous coach. So now, in Pearl's fifth year, we say goodbye to the players who made up his first recruiting class, the first group of guys who were with Pearl from beginning to end...and of that group, only Wayne Chism remains.
Chism was part of a highly touted class that included Ramar Smith, Duke Crews, Marques Johnson, and Josh Tabb...and here at the end, Chism is the only one left standing. It's another story to deal with why that is exactly...but I can think of no one better to be the first player to be recruited by Pearl, and play all four years under him, than Wayne Chism.
Chism will leave Tennessee as its all-time leader in games played. He contributed right away as a freshman, and has become the leader of this team as a senior. That role belonged to Lofton in Chism's first two years, and then Tyler Smith until January 1. But Chism has flourished as the leader of a team that's become a fantastic story, and again, I can think of no one better for that role.
Career Highlights - 2006-07
- First made an impact in the Vols' 111-105 overtime win against Texas (the Lofton v. Durant game), with 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting, and 8 rebounds. After this performance, Chism began to take more of Duke Crews' minutes.
- Had three double-doubles as a freshman, including 14-10 in a win over South Carolina, and 17-12 in a blowout over Vanderbilt.
- With Chris Lofton sidelined due to injury, Chism had a huge game against Al Horford at Florida with 19 points and 6 rebounds in a UT loss.
- Had 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a 89-85 win over Kentucky in Knoxville
- As a freshman, Chism played against Brandan Wright and Tyler Hansborough, Joakim Noah and Al Horford, and Greg Oden. In the NCAA Tournament against Oden, Chism was part of the Vols' defensive effort that held the future #1 NBA Draft pick to 9 points and 3 rebounds.
- Had 17 points and 7 rebounds in the Vols' 74-72 win over West Virginia in a November tournament
- Baptized A.J. Ogilvy into SEC play with one of several games that could be considered his best ever: 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks in an 80-60 blowout over #14 Vanderbilt in Knoxville
- In the win at #1 Memphis, Chism had 13 points and 7 rebounds, and had his best game from beyond the arc to that point: 3 of 5 from three, the first signs of the CHI$$LEs to come...
- Was the Vols' best player in gutting out an 89-87 win over South Carolina in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals, with 23 points and 7 rebounds. This win put Tennessee into the Tournament Semifinals for the first time since 1991.
- My personal pick for Wayne Chism's best game: against #23 Marquette in Nashville, a team running a three guard lineup built for speed, Chism shot 8 for 11 from the field, 8 for 11 at the free throw line, 2 of 5 from three, all good for 26 points to go with 11 rebounds...all in 29 minutes. No other Tennessee player grabbed more than 4 rebounds, Chism owned the paint (the guy he guarded made zero shots), and the Vols won 80-68.
- Was just as good in a home overtime loss to Gonzaga, where he battled Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt in the paint, and finished with 15 points, 19 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
- Had 18 points and 9 rebounds, and wasn't responsible for Jodie Meeks in the Vols' home loss to Kentucky.
- After scoring no points and fouling out of a home win over South Carolina, Chism went on a tear for the remainder of the season, scoring in double figures in all but one of Tennessee's remaining 18 games. He got Ogilvy again with a 20-7 in Nashville, had 22-9 in a last second win at Arkansas, and 18-4 in a huge win at Florida. In the SEC Tournament Semifinals against Auburn, Chism went off for 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks...and a record four CHI$$LEs.
- In the one point loss to Purdue, Chism was the Vols' best player: 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, and just missed on the potential game winner.
- Like J.P. Prince, Chism often saved his best for in-state foes, and at Memphis this year, Chism had 15 points and 9 rebounds in just 24 minutes in a UT win.
- In the first game after the January 1 arrests, Chism took command of this team with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, a 3 blocks in a huge win over Charlotte.
- After the Vols won without him due to foul trouble against Kansas, Chism made sure that wouldn't happen again: in the Vols' first three SEC games, Chism had 12-12 (and 6 steals) against Auburn, a 26-12 in an overtime win over Ole Miss (including six straight OT free throws in the final minute that took the Vols from down one to up five), and an 11-7 against Alabama.
- Had 16 points and 11 rebounds in a huge win over Florida, then followed it up with 20 points and 7 boards on the road at LSU.
- Set his career high with 30 points on 11 of 17 shooting in a blowout win over South Carolina
- Scored another double-double against Trey Thompkins and Georgia with 16 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth double-double this season and the fifteenth of his career.
I started school at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 1999, the same semester Ron Slay stepped on campus. And getting to watch Slay for four years was a pleasure, even when the Vols were frustrating and missing out on the tournament. Slay not only played hard, he carried his emotions in a way that made him fun to watch, and fun to pull for. You were drawn to him, and he became everyone's favorite player.
I get the sense now that it's become the same way with Chism, especially since January 1. Chism is a Tennessee native who's been playing great basketball for us since the day he stepped on campus. When we worried that he was shooting too many threes, he made enough of them and smiled big enough after they went in to make us enjoy it. When the Vols faced a great big man, from Greg Oden to DeMarcus Cousins, we never worried about being totally overmatched, because Chism was there. When he's been banged up or in foul trouble, we've gotten an even better picture of how valuable he is on both ends of the floor.
And when we needed a leader...when we needed someone to take charge of a team that could've easily been broken on January 1, and struggled every night en route to the NIT...Chism was at his best. He's always been a good player. But he's become a great one, and become the man this team needed at just the right time.
Wayne Chism is fun to watch for a thousand different reasons. And for both his personality and his play, we're really, really going to miss him. It's been a pleasure watching him go to work every night, and then listening to him talk about it the next day. I hope he finds his way to the All-SEC first team for the first time in his career, because this year especially, he deserves it.
And I hope he's not done giving his all for Tennessee...because along with Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince, these seniors have become the type of players on the type of team that still has a chance to make some noise before their careers come to an end.
Here's to the headband.