The thought of seeing our team on the court together for the first time since last season had me smiling bigger and more often yesterday than I have in the last few weeks. Basketball is what I love. Playing in front of 21,000 at Thompson-Boling Arena or advancing to the Elite 8 are moments that I absolutely cherish—but it’s not the part of the game that I live for. My undying passion is for days like yesterday. Days when our players come to practice with a competitive spirit, eager to learn and when I can see the love for the game in their eyes. My passion is helping our student-athletes improve so that they can achieve their personal goals.
I never thought three simple words, “Clap it Up,” could make so many people smile so big. Clap it up is what Coach Pearl says to get our entire team to huddle up prior to the start of practice. On the sound of those three words the entire team runs to Coach clapping their hands. As we approached him, I couldn’t help but look around and see every one of our players, coaches, administrators and managers smiling. Our family was back together and our family had come ready to get to work.
Coach Pearl’s hour long practice plan jumped through numerous drills designed to give him an opportunity to evaluate our players. He jumped from passing drills, to defensive slides, to fast break drills and defensive rotations. After some drill work Coach moved on to competitive full court drills with hopes of getting a feel for things such as which of our centers will be better on the ball in our press and who can pressure the ball handler. Coach began the full court drill playing 2 on 2 but eventually progressed to 5 on 5. However, it was when we were playing 3-on-3 that the BEST moment of the day happened.
One of our guards was bringing the ball up the floor against a defender that was wreaking havoc on him with his pressure. With his two teammates down court near the three point line, the ball was poked away causing the ball to be loose. When this happened the defender and the point guard dove on the ball trying to gain possession. However, they poked it away from one another thus it was loose again. By this time, the other four guys in the drill came sprinting back to the action and dove on the ball themselves. A battle ensued to gather possession with ALL SIX guys rolling around on the floor doing whatever they could. It was so awesome! Their teammates were clapping in appreciation, the coaches were going nuts and I was doing cartwheels on the sideline!!
This competitive spirit and hunger to get better is the biggest difference I have seen in our guys. Will we win as many games or advance as far in the NCAA Tournament? I don’t know. Are we consistently working harder? Ab-so-stinkin-lutely!
Speaking of hunger, does anybody know where I can go get some gator meat? I plan on being able to grab a few pieces on my way out of Neyland Stadium tomorrow, but I want to cook me up a nice big filet tonight too! Good luck FootVOLS!!