Slay mature in his final season


Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:32 a.m.
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Tennessee's Ron Slay (35) is fouled by Kentucky's Marquis Estill (50) .

AP Photo/Wade Payne

Facts

  • SEC rank
  • NAME: Ron Slay.
  • POSITION: Forward.
  • HEIGHT: 6-8.
  • WEIGHT: 240
  • HOMETOWN: Nashville, Tenn.
  • POINTS PER GAME: 22.0 (1).
  • REBOUNDS PER GAME: 8.3 (3).
  • FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE: 47.2.

  • Ron Slay has a new, mature approach to the game of basketball. But don't be fooled. The Ron Slay the SEC has come to love - and hate - before his devastating knee injury last season still lives.
    His trademark white headband and wristbands are still there. He still jostles with opposing fans, a delicate game he plays to fire himself up and at the same time electrify opposing arenas. And he's still very Dennis Rodman-like in how he gets into an opponents' head.
    "I think (fans) look at me as the trash talker, the dirty player, but the guy everyone likes to have on their team," Slay said. "They get me riled up just the same way I get them riled up."
    Tonight, when he leads the Vols into the O'Connell Center, get ready for Slay's newest act. Just before tip-off, Slay will go over and shake Florida coach Billy Donovan's hand, just as he's done to all opposing coaches this season.
    "Why he does that, I don't know," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. "But that's Ron Slay."
    While some of his antics are still there, Ron Slay's senior season is a more mature and less brash one. Most importantly, though, he is now the SEC's leading scorer averaging 22 points a game. One year ago, the game of basketball was suddenly stripped from him. Slay tore his right anterior cruciate ligament Jan. 19 against visiting Syracuse.
    He missed the Vols' final 15 games, essentially the entire SEC season. Now, he's ready to step back into the spotlight.
    "This is the part of the schedule I wanted to come out and shine in," Slay said. "A lot of SEC teams didn't get to see me last year, so I want to give them a little feel, let them know I'm back."
    Slay alerted the college basketball world he was back on Jan. 4 when he scored a career-high 38 points in Tennessee's 71-64 win over New Mexico in Knoxville. It was the largest scoring output by a Vol since Allan Houston scored 43 points in a 1990 game. As the final seconds ticked away against the Lobos, Slay placed the ball on the court, stared it down, then pounded his chest and walked away.
    "When I came into this season, I felt like a lot of people had written me off," Slay said. "I feel like I'm trying to prove everybody wrong."
    So then, how is Slay's attitude different this season. Peterson likes to recall his team's first 12-minute run on the first day of practice this season.
    "You could tell then his approach was different," Peterson said. "He's taken a business-like approach."
    Last year Slay did a lot of yelling in practice, Peterson said. It was written off as Slay being Slay.
    "Was it necessary? No, it wasn't necessary," Peterson said. "It was just street talk. But you just don't hear him talking any more. He's just much more serious, more mature."
    Slay contends he still talks a little trash on the court. However, this year he may do it in more subtle ways.
    "I'm still having fun out there, talking a little bit," Slay said. "I'm still doing the things I did last year, I'm just getting the ball more."
    And he's also getting double-teamed more. It hasn't slowed him, however. With the loss of Marcus Haislip and Vincent Yarbrough to the NBA, Slay has been the focus of opposing defenses. But perhaps the departure of his friends, Yarbrough and Haislip, to the NBA has calmed Slay a bit. Maybe it's a new understanding that an injury could swipe the game from under his feet in an instant.
    Slay says one big difference is the inspiration he gets from Haislip, now with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Yarbrough, now with the Denver Nuggets.
    "I think seeing them out there in the NBA helps me," Slay said. "I'm a step behind, so I've got to catch up somehow."
    You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com

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