Though he hasn't disposed of all the trash talk, there's no doubt Tennessee's Ron Slay has toned down his act for his senior season.
And that has been a good thing for the Volunteers, who have six straight wins entering tonight's 7:30 game at South Carolina. Slay, a senior forward, is leading the Southeastern Conference with 21.8 points per game and is the favorite for player of the year honors.
"Mentally, he's really tuned in and he's very responsible in practice," said second-year coach Buzz Peterson, who has guided Tennessee to the brink of an NCAA Tournament appearance. "He's a much more mature person."
Slay fashioned a bombastic reputation across the league during his first 2 1/2 years, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament confined him to the sideline for the Vols' last 15 games last season.
Peterson said the injury left Slay a more focused, businesslike player. The change has paid off for the Vols, who have surprising 15-6 record (7-3 SEC).
"He has really toned it down," Peterson said. "The guy has grown up a lot. The injury probably had a lot to do with that."
Slay has been the Vols' high scorer for eight straight games and 19 overall.
"There's no question in my mind he is the best offensive player in the league," said South Carolina coach Dave Odom. "He's terrific."
WARREN'S HOT: It's easy to be surprised by the sudden emergence of South Carolina guard Chris Warren. But Warren, who has scored 51 points in guiding the Gamecocks to three straight wins, is only making up for lost time.
Warren fractured a small bone in his ankle and suffered a high ankle sprain in practice Jan. 5. While the Gamecocks sank into a losing streak that eventually reached seven games, Warren watched as opponents pounced on the team's one-dimensional backcourt.
After a six-game absence, Warren returned and struggled in losses to Kentucky and Louisiana State. He finally found his stroke against Vanderbilt, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting as the Gamecocks shook free from the losing streak.
Warren scored a career-high 17 points in last week's win over Clemson, then he eclipsed that total with a game-high 23 points three days later in a 72-65 victory over Arkansas.
"I'm just playing with more confidence," said Warren, a senior from Garland, Texas. "I just try to play every game like it's my last, because when I had the injury it was like a nightmare."
ALL-SEC: Media and coaches could have a tough time determining the All-SEC team this year. Here's one observer's take:
First team-Slay, Mario Austin (Mississippi State), Marquis Daniels (Auburn), Erwin Dudley (Alabama), Ronald Dupree (Louisiana State).
Second team-Keith Bogans (Kentucky), Ezra Williams (Georgia), Jarvis Hayes (Georgia), Matt Freije (Vanderbilt), C.J. Watson (Tennessee).
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org