COLUMBUS - The slice of the NCAA tournament being played here at Nationwide Arena may be devoid of glitzy teams that have made national impacts. But there are plenty of glitzy, impact players.
Virginia has two spectacular guards in J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary, Tennessee has the Southeastern Conference player of the year in Chris Lofton, Virginia Tech's Zabian Dowdell may be the best player you've never heard of, and Southern Illinois has both the player of the year and the defensive player of the year from the Missouri Valley Conference.
But instead of telling you about one of them, gather 'round, please, and hear a tale about Dane Bradshaw.
He will be Tennessee's starting power forward when the Vols meet Virginia here at 12:10 this afternoon. He is listed at 6-feet-4, which may be generous. He averages 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds and, rather astoundingly, shot just 23 percent from the field in 16 SEC games this season.
If the Vols should somehow manage to win the national title and Bradshaw should somehow manage to score in double figures in every game between now and then, he will still finish his career with more scoreless games than double-figure games.
Yet, on the night of Feb. 27, when 24,047 fans crammed into Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville to celebrate a one-man Senior Night, they were treated to an announcement unlike any heard before.
Coach Bruce Pearl took the microphone and said he and his wife, Kim, would donate $100,000 to endow a UT athletic scholarship in the name of you guessed it, Dane Bradshaw.
"His name and his face and his personality [are] about the resurrection of Tennessee basketball," Pearl said yesterday when asked about it. "If there has been a resurrection of Tennessee basketball, it has been about Dane Bradshaw and that's why we did the scholarship."
When Pearl arrived in Knoxville in the spring of 2005, he sized up Bradshaw, who had been pretty much a nonfactor under the previous coaching staff and really didn't know what to do with him. But Pearl quickly realized he couldn't afford to be without him.
He tried Bradshaw at point guard, and while he had the knack of getting the ball into the right hands, he was exposed on the perimeter defensively. Pearl tried him at small forward, but his shot-making was suspect. Finally, he moved him to the power spot.
"I coached Division II, and I had three guards who weren't as small as he is and we've got him as a 6-3 power forward in Division I, major basketball," Pearl said, shaking his head. "But he means everything to us. He's a great student and a great leader. He achieves at a high level. You'll never hear me quoted as saying he's an overachiever, he's not. I believe he comes as close as any student-athlete to getting the most out of what he's got, and he does it on a consistent basis.
"Finally, he's a man of faith. I've prayed with him and I've worshiped with him and being in his company is powerful in that regard. He's tremendous, just tremendous. He's got it all."
That is despite being neither the quickest, strongest, or biggest guy. That is despite physical ailments - a wrist injury as a junior that demanded surgery after the season and tendinitis in his shoulders that has bugged him all this season.
But Bradshaw is the first guy to set a screen for Lofton, the first guy to dive on the floor, the king of the kick-out pass, and the captain of the 2006-07 SI.com All-Glue team. He does all the little things, the stuff that doesn't get listed in a box score, to hold the Vols together.
Bradshaw, an honor student who graduated in three years with a degree in communications and is already closing in on a master's degree in sports management, said the scholarship "is a tremendous honor for me," but said it spoke more highly of Pearl than of himself. There he goes, dishing off for another assist to go with the 11 he had in Tennessee's 121-86 opening-round romp over Long Beach State.
No way of knowing yet if this season will have a happy ending, the type Pearl said Bradshaw deserves. But Senior Night did. With seconds to play Bradshaw came limping off to a curtain call, his shoulders aching and his legs cramping. He had scored 10 points and his team won by 10 points against No. 5-ranked Florida.
"I hope we're able to do some special things [in the NCAA] and go a little further," Pearl said. "Because when he does graduate it will be said of this time in Tennessee basketball that it was Dane Bradshaw's time, that he's the one who did it."
Pearl and his wife made sure that Dane Bradshaw's time will never be forgotten.
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