Originally created 12/11/97

Green leads Tennessee to best start in 15 seasons



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee has opened the season with an eight-game winning streak, the Volunteers' best start in 15 years.

The competition hasn't been the toughest in the land, but for a program that's ranged from poor to pitiful in the last decade, new coach Jerry Green has made an auspicious start.

Asked Wednesday how it feels, Green laughed. "It is probably like the guy who has been pushed off the building," he said. "So far so good. We haven't hit the bottom yet."

The Volunteers haven't had a winning season in five years. They were 5-3 at this point last year and finished 11-16.

Tennessee's had 16 coaches in its 89 seasons. None has had a better beginning than the 54-year-old Green, who was lured from Oregon after Kevin O'Neill bolted for Northwestern in a dispute with Athletic Director Doug Dickey.

Tennessee's eight victories all have come at home.

The wins have been against the likes of Winthrop, Wofford and Appalachian State. But the Vols also have defeated Miami (Ohio), which beat No. 7 Xavier on Tuesday, and they won by 20 Tuesday over defending Atlantic 10 champion St. Joseph's.

The Vols' first road game is Dec. 20 at Memphis.

"How good are we? I think we are going to find out soon," Green said. "But still, it is good to be at this point."

Touted freshman guard Tony Harris has delivered, averaging 15 points a game. So has sophomore forward C.J. Black, who's getting 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks a game.

Two key players, however, have been injured. Senior guard DaShay Jones may lose the season to a torn knee ligament, and 6-10, 255-pound sophomore center Charles Hathaway had surgery last week for a blood clot.

Hathaway returned to campus Wednesday after a week in a St. Louis hospital, and Green is optimistic.

"This is kind of a bittersweet thing," Green said. "It is bitter because we certainly need and want those two guys with us. It is kind of sweet in the fact that we can get some kids playing that maybe will give us some depth down the stretch in February or March."

Before the season began, Green said he wished his inherited schedule was stronger. But now he says it's been helpful.

"When I get Tennessee basketball to where I think Tennessee basketball is rebuilt, this is not the schedule that we will want to play," he said.

"But I think that for right now, being a perennial doormat and not having a winning season in five years, I think it gives us a little chance to know each other better and maybe start playing a little bit better together."

It's also building support from fans, who have been so sparse in cavernous 24,000-seat Thompson-Boling Arena in past years that curtains were hung to hide the empty seats.

But after the Vols beat Miami on a last-second tip-in by Hathaway, the Vol faithful rushed the court and piled onto the players. It looked more like the Final Four than the second game of the season.

"We are going to get this thing going," Green said.