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September 5, 2007

Former Vol Bradshaw enters literary world

From 6-foot-3 power forward to best-selling author.

The second part is a stretch, but if Dane Bradshaw's first book is any indication, he may have a future in the literary field.

The sales of Vertical Leap: Inside the Rise of Tennessee Basketball, which was published in May, have gone "exceptionally well," a spokesperson for Tennessee Valley Publishing said. The company expects to sell more than 15,000 copies.

"The feedback has been 100 percent positive," said Bradshaw, who spent much of the summer traveling across Tennessee for book signings and speaking engagements. "I've had people tell me how much they laughed and cried. I had one person come up and tell me it was so inspiring that they were going to buy four more copies. So far, nobody has asked for their $20 back (the book retails for $19.95)."

The book is a near-daily account of Tennessee's 2006-07 season the Volunteers went 24-11 and reached the Sweet 16 as seen through the eyes of Bradshaw, the lone senior on the squad. Of course, Bradshaw admits it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting or appealing if the Vols hadn't been so successful.

"It really could have gone either way depending on how the team did," Bradshaw said. "Imagine if we had reached the Elite Eight or the Final Four."

Bradshaw approached coach Bruce Pearl about writing the book last summer and quickly received Pearl's blessing. Tennessee basketball media spokesman Craig Pinkerton offered further encouragement, mentioning that when he was working at Kansas, guard Jerod Haase wrote a book about his senior season in 1996-97. Haase's Floor Burns has sold roughly 30,000 copies. Unlike Bradshaw, Haase used a co-author.

Pearl wrote the foreword which Bradshaw calls "the best four pages in the book" in which he describes Bradshaw as a "6-foot-3 power forward who talks as much trash as Larry Bird." Pearl has endowed a $100,000 scholarship in Bradshaw's name.

The book is full of light-hearted moments. During a flight to New York, Bradshaw tried to convince star guard Chris Lofton there is a "mid-eastern time zone" where "Monday Night Football doesn't come on until 10:30." Pearl tried to repay Bradshaw for a practical joke by having an e-mail sent to Bradshaw saying he had eligibility issues and that his diploma was issued by mistake (Bradshaw graduated in three years). And there is a picture of a letter Bradshaw wrote as an 8-year-old where he thanks his father for teaching him to play "deffence."

Bradshaw also explores some of the season's toughest moments, including the news that center Major Wingate was kicked off the team last September for failing a drug test. Losing the 6-10 Wingate meant Bradshaw would have to play out of position and guard much taller players.

Bradshaw wrote, "It was tough to see my friend with tears in his eyes. I felt for him, but I may have been more upset than sympathetic. Everyone loved Major, but his actions put our season in jeopardy. The fault was his own, and because of his actions our whole team suffered."

A few selections from Dane Bradshaw's Vertical Leap:
On Bruce Pearl: "He has brought life to a basketball program and revitalized all the players, fans and supporters involved. Coach Pearl enabled me to live out my dream as I had envisioned as a child and allowed us to enjoy the game again. It is too easy to say that winning cures all. Even in defeat, I would rather have been on Coach Pearl's side because I knew we did everything we could have possibly done to win."
On blowing a 17-point lead and falling to Ohio State in the Sweet 16: "For me, in an instant, all hope was gone and my basketball career was over. I thought I could handle defeat, but I couldn't. Not like this. I untucked my jersey and pulled it over my face. I couldn't believe what just happened. The Elite Eight was in our hands and we let it go. I would rather have been down by 10 points the whole game to a team like North Carolina and lose."
On toying with Florida fans in Gainesville: "I was the first to take warm-ups and the student section was packed and ready for Volunteer arrival. The boos, the 'Bradshaw, you suck,' and the 'Bridget's better' chants (his sister, Bridget, played for Division II Barry University) began immediately. I laughed and decided to play along with them. So, I stepped to the free-throw line for my first shot and intentionally shot an air ball wide left. The place erupted as if I had just given them everything they wanted in life."
On star guard Chris Lofton: "Chris was not heavily recruited out of high school. Many people don't realize that Chris took recruiting visits to Arkansas-Little Rock and Valparaiso. No offense to those schools, but All-American Chris Lofton was visiting those schools?"
Bradshaw also mentions some heated arguments among players and some embarrassing moments, but he made sure to leave out names, something his former teammates appreciated.

"Dane did a good job stating the facts while taking the readers inside our lives," senior guard Jordan Howell said. "He told the truth, but made sure to show us in a positive light. Dane could have gone deeper about Major's suspension and other topics, but didn't. That shows the kind of character he has."

Howell is hoping Bradshaw is a good prognosticator as well. Bradshaw says the Volunteers will be improved this season despite his absence. Bradshaw ranked first on the team in assists (4.7 per game), second in steals (1.9 spg) and fourth in rebounding (4.0 rpg) last season.

Tennessee returns every other key player and adds Iowa transfer Tyler Smith, a 6-7 forward, and former five-star recruit J.P Prince a transfer from Arizona. The Vols are ranked sixth in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25.

"They have the kind of talent that hasn't been there in years," Bradshaw said. "I've been telling fans to just be patient in the early stages of the season. It might take the coaching staff some time to figure out the right rotation, but next year's team is the one to watch. Chris Lofton shows up for every big game, and they've finally got the size to play a more traditional lineup."

Bradshaw says Smith, who averaged 14.9 points a game last season for the Hawkeyes, could be the biggest key.

"One of the main things about Coach Pearl's offense is the offense goes through everyone, from the point guard to the 4-man," Bradshaw said. "You have to be able to execute, and that will depend on developing the right chemistry with the 4-man."

Replacing Bradshaw's leadership could be another factor.

"Dane is a very good speaker, and when he talks people listen," Howell said. "He communicates so well on and off the court. That's what made him the type of player he was."

Bradshaw recently signed a contract to play professionally in Holland and jokes he'll play as long as someone is willing to pay him. Howell says he sees "a little of Pearl" in Bradshaw, and the book is full of hints that he wants to coach.

Anyone up for a sequel?

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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