Don’t the feelings you have after we win make all the personal sacrifices worth it? Isn’t a celebratory locker room, smiles on your friends and families faces and a step towards accomplishing our goals all worth playing as hard as you can for the entire time you on the floor? Wins are always sweet but a win when you’re struggling over the ranked in-state rival Memphis is even sweeter!
So now that we played much better vs. Memphis the questions start to come; What was the difference? Why did guys play harder and better vs. a Memphis team that is better than Charleston, USC, Charlotte and Oakland? My first answer to that question is role acceptance. Our guys got back to the mindset they had the first seven games of the season in which all they focused on was playing hard defensively and executing their role offensively. Secondly, and this is something we are working to fix, our guys get more excited to play teams that they recognize and respect. This is one reason why we have been so inconsistent this year. In addition, we made shots that we haven’t been making the last 6 games. Melvin made a 3 pointer and pull up jumper, Scotty got back to making his pull up jumpers off of ballscreens and almost everyone shot like they are capable of from 3. I’m a strong believer that good and bad enthusiasm and effort is contagious. Last night we dominated Memphis from start to finish because each and every one of our guys was committed to their role and executed it with a winning effort and enthusiasm.
Today we begin our preparation for the start of the SEC season at Arkansas. Despite Coach Pearl’s 8 game suspension beginning Saturday afternoon, our preparation the next two days will be very similar to all of our games in the past. Coach Pearl will be instrumental in implementing the game plan and getting guys mentally and physically ready to play a very good Arkansas team. The only difference is that Coach Jones will be a little more vocal these next two days in practice. In order to minimize the shock value of not seeing Coach Pearl in his suspenders and hearing his high energized hollering during the game, our staff has orchestrated a few practices without him throughout the season and slowly become more vocal in practices and meetings as the season has progressed.
I am also a strong believer that once the game hits your team better be prepared and ready to execute the game plan. Motivating and working to get the best out of your players is one thing but if you are still “coaching” and implementing all sorts of X’s and O’s during the game your players will be on the floor thinking rather than reacting. When this happens more times than not your players will be a step behind a prepared opponent. The two biggest things we will miss Coach Pearl for on game day is his motivating personality and his in-game adjustments and experience. I don’t care how long our staff has been with Coach and how much our players respect us, those two things are hard to overcome. You can’t just replace 453 career wins and expect there to be no difference.
With that said, I am completely confident in the way we will handle this tough situation. Coach Pearl has always allowed his staff to have great impact on each and every practice and game plan since I have been here. Assistant Coaches Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay have unbelievable basketball minds, are great motivators, have the players’ trust and have the experience to lead us successfully through our first eight conference games.
The past few games, one of our biggest challenges has been our transition defense. Our opponents have sprinted harder then we have and gotten too many layups or wide open three’s because we have not hustled back and gotten our proper matchups. If you think College of Charleston was good on the break, wait until you see Arkansas. With a dead eye shooter in Rotnei Clarke, quick guards and athletic posts, Arkansas gets out on the break as fast or faster than almost anybody we will play this year. Our defensive mindset must stay focused in. What if we don’t make shots early? How will we handle the adversity every team faces on the road? Will our offense dictate our defense? On the road it usually takes teams a little bit longer to get comfortable on the offensive end thus your commitment to defense is vital. Will we build on the improvements we made and the focus we had vs. Memphis or will we be too busy patting ourselves on the back after reading our press clippings and seeing our highlights on ESPN to do what’s right? I know we want to be good but I still need to be convinced we are willing to give the consistent effort needed and Saturday’s game is another opportunity to prove it.
PS: All you Vol Fans in Memphis, thanks for your support last night and I hope you are wearing that orange because we earned braggin’ rights for the next 364 days!