One-on-one with Wayne Chism

Shortly after the Jan. 1 arrest of four of his players, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl stood before the Volunteers and talked about the rest of the season.

Tyler Smith (who has since been dismissed from the team), Melvin Goins, Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum face drugs and weapons charges.

” [Pearl] just told us to stay together,” forward Wayne Chism said. “He said if we stayed together and believed in each other, we’d still be able to beat some really good teams.”

Nearly three weeks later, Tennessee owns victories over then-No. 1 Kansas and 21st-ranked Ole Miss – in addition to wins against Auburn and Charlotte.

Photo Wayne Chism has keyed the Tennessee effort.
(Lisa Norman-Hudson/AP Photo)

While all the Vols deserve credit for the streak, no player has been as instrumental to Tennessee’s success as Chism, who has averaged 16 points and 8.3 rebounds in the post-arrest games.

A 6-foot-9 senior, Chism is averaging 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds on the season. He talked with Yahoo! Sports after Sunday’s practice.

Q: How worried were you about the rest of the season once your teammates were arrested and suspended?

A: I always had a lot of confidence in myself and I’ve never doubted my teammates. We stayed together the whole time and we believed in each other. We came out with some great wins.

Q: What has the reaction been like on campus and around town since your win over Kansas and the success that followed?

A: It’s been the same. People are used to us winning games and they don’t want to hear excuses when we lose. The main thing is that they never gave up on us. We thank them for that. Just like we stayed together as a team, they stood behind us and had confidence in us, and that helped us get through the [worst] situation we’ve ever had.

Q: Are there any positives you can draw from this experience?

A: It made us stronger. It made us believe we could do anything. We had a lot of people that didn’t think we could do it because we lost all those players. People probably thought we were going to crumble. But we didn’t feed into that. We stayed together and got some big wins. If we keep playing like this we’re going to beat a lot of really good teams.

Q: You’re posting career-high shooting percentages from the field, the foul stripe and from beyond the arc. Why?

A: My season has come down to being patient and taking the shots I know I should take. I’m not rushing anything.

Q: Your nickname is “Wheezy” because you have asthma. How long have you battled that condition?

A: I didn’t figure it out until I was in elementary school. Then it really started getting bad once I was in middle school and high school, when I started playing a lot of sports. I started getting the right treatments.

Q: Does it still affect you today?

A: Yeah, I use an inhaler. I take it about 15 minutes before the game – or sometimes maybe right before we go out for the jump ball. After that I usually don’t have to use it again for the rest of the game.

Photo Chism has seen his game and his stats improve.
(April L.Brown/AP Photo)

Q: What’s it like playing for Bruce Pearl? He seems like quite a character.

A: He’s funny. He’s a really funny guy. He tells a lot of jokes in the locker room. In the games sometimes, we’ll be down so many points, and he’ll say something funny to get us to relax, and then we’ll end up coming back. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but at least it gets our mind off of how bad we were doing at the beginning of the game.

Q: What did you think about the time he painted his chest for a Lady Vols game?

A: I think it helped their team. They played their tail off in that game. He kept the crowd into it the whole game. Then their crowd started coming to our games, too, just because they started liking Coach Pearl after that and seeing how he interacted with the fans.

Q: Are you a big Lady Vols fan?

A: We all are. We go to a lot of their games and they come to some of ours. It’s like we’re brothers and sisters out there.

Q: What are your thoughts on the SEC this season?

A: It’s really tough. Kentucky is at the top right now, but there are a lot of good teams. Vandy is good. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are good. All these teams are playing great right now. Georgia has a new coach and they’re playing hard. Every team in the league is out there competing. Sometimes teams get down when their record isn’t good or when they lose a few in a row. But all these teams are sticking together the whole time and playing hard every night. It’s a tough league. There are no bad teams.

Q: Who is the toughest player you’ve ever guarded?

A: Patrick Patterson at Kentucky is the toughest. He’s physical and he’s so athletic. I like guarding him. We get after it every time we play each other. We talk trash the whole game and get mad at each other. But at the end of the game, we shake hands and keep that good sportsmanship going.

Q: I’m coming to Knoxville for a game later this season. Any restaurant tips?

A: Chandler’s Deli. Fried chicken, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn, cornbread – and peach cobbler for dessert. You can’t beat it.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jan 18, 2010