Where art thou, Ron Slay?
If you've been a spectator in Thompson-Boling Arena enjoying the 2000-01 rendition of the Tennessee Volunteer men's basketball team and their array of dazzling dunks, long-range shooting and (dare I say) stellar defense, you are not alone.
Over on the Volunteer bench sitting next to UT head coach Jerry Green with a white headband hanging limply around his neck, barely lathered with sweat sits ol' Ron, letting a No. 7 ranking and all that accompanies it pass him by.
So what has happened to our headbanded hero? Last season the highly-touted freshman from Nashville electrified the UT faithful coming off the bench with his enthusiasm, sometimes dominating the tempo of the game on both ends of the court.
He would arrive on the floor five or six minutes into the game to a standing ovation and promptly deliver a steady 10 points per game. This season, that number has dwindled to an anemic 6.5 points per game, good for eighth best on the team. Heck, even offensively-challenged Charles Hathaway is averaging more points (7.3) than Slay.
What does not show on the statistics is the number of times Slay has either dribbled off of his foot in the paint, had his shot blocked or failed to box out for rebounds. Slay has eight turnovers on the season in his 17.5 minutes per game while shooting an ice cold 38.5 percent from the floor.
When told before the season that fellow sophomore Marcus Haislip had put on 25 pounds of muscle in the off-season, Slay joked I'm already buff. If anyone has been in the same gym as me this season, it is not too difficult to see how easy it is to wrestle the ball away from this muscular specimen.
I was not in the weight room in the off-season with Ron or anyone else for that matter, but it appears that the eternal jokester was practicing his one-liners instead of his strength-training during workouts.
My advice to Slay is to consult with Tennessee forward Vincent Yarbrough whose drastic improvement over the past two seasons has garnered rave reviews from Green and his teammates. The surge in the junior's play can be directly attributed to his intense off-season training, basically strengthening his body after his freshman year, and his game last summer.
Better yet, Slay could ask former Pearl-Cohn High School teammate and current Tennessee All-American defensive tackle John Henderson what it takes improve enough to become a team leader. Henderson has been revered by Volunteer football coaches as being the hardest worker on the team.
Is Slay is a bad basketball player? Not at all. I saw what he could do last season, and so did everybody else. He's just not playing up to his capabilities thus far this season.
Look, I'm a realistic guy. I realize the Vols have played only four games. I realize some of the early-season opponents have not allowed Slay to get his usual serving-size of minutes. All I'm saying is the Ron Slay that chest-bumps every starter during the announcements of the lineups before each game looks like an impostor after the whistle blows.
Even the cult following of the Slay Nation has noticed something is wrong. The standing ovation that reverberated through every nook and cranny of Thompson-Boling Arena last year when Slay entered the contest has been reduced to a sparse applause and a few hollow cheers.
Those voices seem to be asking what every Volunteer basketball follower wants to know: Will the real Ron Slay please stand up?

Brad Shepard can be reached at beaconsports@hotmail.com.