Wow were we blessed in so many ways in 2010! As does every team, business and family, we faced some tough adversity but from our first Elite Eight appearance in school history to seniors graduating, our players and program achieved a lot on and off the court throughout the past year. Below is my list of my list of Top 10 moments in Tennessee basketball throughout 2010. I hope you enjoy it! GO VOLS!!
10. Any time you beat Florida it’s a big win and brings an even bigger smile to your face. However, last year’s buzzer beating win on January 31st with a national audience on CBS was special. After struggling in the first half our team turned it around and dominated Florida on the boards leaving the door open for Scotty Hopson’s late game heroics. With 24.6 seconds left Coach Pearl designed a play for Scotty who when he got it, took one dribble, stepped back and rose up with a hand in his face for a game winning pull up jumper. Buzzer beaters are oh so sweet!
9. Being a part of a college basketball team provides guys with numerous opportunities that otherwise might not be possible. A few of our guys got to represent our country as they experienced some awesome things in 2010. Scotty Hopson got to participate on the 2010 USA Basketball Men’s Select Team that trained against the USA Basketball Men’s National Team as they prepared for the FIBA World Championships. Steven Pearl traveled to Odessa, Ukraine in June as part of a goodwill group that administered a sports and wellness clinic to Jewish youth at Tikva Children’s Home. The impact he made on these formerly homeless, abandoned and abused Jewish children of Odessa is one that surely brought smiles to the faces of many. Finally, Skylar McBee got to travel to China with the Reach USA team. The mission of this Christian organization is to reach the world through sports. It’s an experience that as a kid from a small town, Skylar never thought he’d get to experience.
8. Can you say John Wall Dance? I will never forget seeing Scotty do the John Wall Dance after we upset #2 Kentucky on February 27th. After the score got tied at 65, despite being up 18 points in the second half, we had to pull together down the stretch to hold on to win a 74-65 victory. The close game down the stretch only made the happiness after the game greater as we celebrated quality performances from numerous guys on our team. JP Prince led the way that game with 20 points which means we saw at least eight salutes!
7. There aren’t many better feelings then winning on the road when people challenge your toughness. We did just that against a previously unbeaten, physical and talented #3 Pittsburgh team on December 11th. Our dominating performance from start to finish was catapulted by our executing the pillars of our program: Defense and Rebounding. (John Fields two handed volleyball spike block is one I’ll never forget!) Our guys also showed up on the offensive end as we played together, executed the game plan to a tee and consistently knocked down shots.
6. With frequent visits to UT Hospital, Children’s Hospital and community projects such as Habitat for Humanity and Hoops for Hope our team won the Community Outreach Award for the second straight year. In addition, the cancer awareness and prevention program oUTlive that was started by Coach Pearl and former graduate assistant Brookes Savage has raised more than $300,000 for cancer research the last two years.
5. It was definitely a Happy Thanksgiving this year. In the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden, our team defeated two tough opponents (VCU and #7 Villanova) to win the Preseason NIT. The defensive tenacity and offensive efficiency was the difference in upsetting these two very talented teams. The excitement and support for Coach Pearl on the floor after the game was special as we demonstrated what it means to be a family.
4. Sure our players are more recognized for what they do on the basketball court but our staff takes great pride in making sure our guys always take care of the academic responsibilities first. Watching three seniors, Quinn Cannington, JP Prince and Wayne Chism walk across the stage in Thompson-Boling Arena to receive their diploma in May was one of the proudest moments I have had while being here. They worked so hard to achieve this milestone and with their degree in hand, they have very bright futures ahead of them.
3. The shot was blocked, the score was final and the celebration of beating Ohio State to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history began! Celebrating on the court looking into a sea of orange in the St. Louis stands is one I’ll never forget. In preparation for the game we talked over and over again about it being team vs. their 6 guys and on that night our 10 guys were better than the National Player of the Year, Evan Turner and his teammates.
2. With winning the most games in one season in school history (28) and appearing in the program’s first Elite Eight made the screeching halt of our season with a 1-point loss to Michigan State very, very difficult. However, returning to an airport packed supportive and congratulatory Vol Fans was unbelievably special. Our guys appreciated it so much. It was just one more sign that Tennessee has the best fans in the nation! Thank you!
1. With 4 guys out and 3 walk-ons in our rotation, nobody thought we could beat the undefeated and #1 team in the country, Kansas, on national TV. A win became even more challenging when senior leaders JP Prince and Wayne Chism got in heavy foul trouble and had to sit more than half of the game on the bench. However, with our backs up against the wall and a team full of guys who trusted one another and played every second as hard as they could we shocked the world in front of a packed Thompson-Boling Arena! Every time I think about that game I smile ear to ear. There are so many great plays from that game. Bobby completely out playing Sherron Collins, Renaldo’s huge three’s and of course Skylar McBee’s heroic shot. With all the adversity that we had faced, when that buzzer sounded, tears streamed out of my eyes as I saw the excitement of our players as they celebrated on the court with our fans. I’ve been a part of college basketball for 10 years and will hopefully be a part of it for a long, long time and it will be very hard to surpass those feelings of pride and happiness I had for players because of how they came together to overcome some steep adversity.
Happy New Year ! I wish you many smiles and even more blessings throughout 2011! Through faith, family, friendship, hard work and enthusiasm anything can be accomplished!!