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King and Grunfeld also are dissimilar on the court, in both playing styles and manner. King, 6'7", is thin and lithe with explosive quickness. His extraordinarily accurate jump shot—he has a .604 shooting percentage—is launched with an unorthodox motion that allows him to release the ball in the same microsecond in which he catches it. And he is one of the finest skinny rebounders ever; his average of 13.4 is ninth best in the country. Off the floor and at practice he is so quiet that when he talks it is startling, like hearing a gentle dog bark for the first time. But during games King has an almost manic brashness, racing around to exhort his teammates, applauding wildly and pumping his arms up and down after each good play. Even more disturbing to opponents is his habit of making a good move, then running up to his befuddled defender and yelling at him. The tactic is not in the best tradition of sportsmanship, but it seems to work. Against Alabama, King's enthusiasm and indefatigable performance were infectious, and no doubt greatly responsible for Tennessee's beating a team that seems to have more overall talent.
King comes from a family that includes five sons and a daughter. All of the boys are talented basketball players—one of them, Albert, is considered among the best dozen high school performers in the country, although he is only a junior. "He'll be better than me when he gets to my stage, but right now he isn't," says Bernard. King's parents saw him play only three times while he was in high school and have watched him only once in college, because they are more concerned with the problems of day-to-day survival. They live in a low-income housing project that is rife with crime and poverty. King's father, Thomas, is a caretaker-guard there. "His salary really isn't enough to take care of six kids, but he does his best," says King. "It helped us to have enough time for basketball. The game has meant a lot to our family. It's kept us close."
King dabbles in writing poetry, but on the court the bard can turn bad. "He does have a mean streak in him," Mears says. "He doesn't like to be shown up." Not even by his teammates. After a recent scrimmage in which King's team lost by a point, he sulked for 20 minutes.
Grunfeld is as thick as King is thin. He is 6'6", 225 pounds and has massive legs. Because of his heavy thighs, he has to buy pants three inches too big around the waist, which then have to be taken in. And though he is not the team captain, his gregarious nature and charm make him the Vols' leader.
Grunfeld is as confident as he is rugged. When he was recruited the coaches showed him the team training room. "I don't want to see this," he said. "I never get hurt and I never get tired." As a freshman he averaged 17.4 points a game, but his self-assurance was dented last year when he broke his wrist in a preseason scrimmage against Western Kentucky and missed six games. It was in that scrimmage that King provided a glimpse of the future by making 23 of 24 floor shots. He then scored 42 points in his first game as a Volunteer. King averaged 26.4 that season (Grunfeld came back to score 23.8), then had a minor knee operation during the off-season. "Now I'm faster and stronger," King says.
"I know if I get open on a cut, Bernard will pass up an 80% shot to get the ball to me," says Grunfeld.
Getting along with each other is easy compared to adjusting to Mears' brand of taut discipline and super organization. Typical of his myriad regulations is one that requires the players to leave their shoes in a certain place in their dressing room—with the tongue and laces in precise positions. The only slipup a visitor could detect last week at Tennessee was in the press guide. It says that Mears has the highest winning percentage (.743) in the country, when actually Jerry Tarkanian of Nevada-Las Vegas has a better coaching record, although he has not been around as long as Mears has. "I kind of like the discipline and rules," says King. "You learn the game in New York, but you never learn the fundamentals. The coaches here are smart."
Smart enough to let their best players have most of the shots. King usually is matched up inside against taller men, but Mears says, "There hasn't been a guy big enough to stop him yet." Alabama's 6'9" Rickey Brown tried and fouled out. He had fair success against King in the first half, blocking several of his shots and holding him to 14 points, but King scored 23 in the second half and finished with 18 rebounds, even though Alabama tried everything but handcuffs to prevent him from getting the ball inside.
Junior Mike Jackson, another New Yorker who is the Volunteers' third-leading scorer, is under orders to get the ball to King whenever he can. "Why not? It's an automatic two," says Jackson. When King gets the pass, opponents must feel as if they just heard the click of a thermostat. They know that the heat is coming on. "Quickness will always win," Jackson says. "How can the defense block the shot when the ball is already in the basket?"