Are you tough? No, really? I’m not talking about how much you bench press. How do you handle adversity? Do you hide from it? Are you afraid to fail? Or do you work your butt off and take risks without being afraid to fail knowing that failure is just a part of improving. Of course on the outside, to your friends and family, you’re going to say your tough. But is that the same answer you would give after digging deep, evaluating yourself and honestly answering that question?

With Florida invading Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday night, toughness will be the determining factor of who wins this basketball game. However, committing to toughness has not been so easy for both of our ball clubs. We have greatly struggled to keep our concentration and focus when things don’t go our way. Whether it is a missed shot, turnover, being scored on or getting yelled at by a coach, we have struggled to overcome this adversity and remain focused on our goals. Due to our lack of mental toughness at times, the effort we have played with has been inconsistent. In sports and in life it is easy to make a good play once in awhile, have a huge sale once in awhile or be a good spouse once in awhile. The toughest part about becoming a successful player, salesman or spouse is to do it well EVERYDAY. Once you are able to do so, these efforts become habits and you develop the toughness and self-confidence that will help you overcome the adversity we all will surely face.

Our struggles with toughness, albeit on a smaller scale, are similar to what Florida has battled the last few years. After winning back-to-back National Championships, Florida missed the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years and was ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year in large part because of what Coach Donovan  deemed a lack of toughness. However, toward the end of last season, Assistant Coach Larry Shyatt believes, their guys made the change. “Kudos to the players, because I think they maybe finally got it. It really isn’t talent or skill that had to change. It’s more of a mind-set of how hard you have to play. That’s the missing link,” Shyatt said.

So, who will be the tougher team Tuesday night? Who will be able to handle the other team’s runs? Will Florida be able to handle Vol Nation being loud as they pack Thompson-Boling Arena? Will we be able to handle Florida’s talented players making big-time plays? Which colored jersey will be the first to the floor for a loose ball? Bottom line; WHICH TEAM WILL PLAY HARDER?

Whether the adversity we face is self-inflicted, or put upon us by our opponent, no matter what outside pressures we may face or bad breaks we get, we must remain focused throughout the game on the things we can control: effort and execution. When people look back at this team years from now, they are most likely going to only remember this team for its win-loss record and how far we advance or don’t advance in postseason play. But, to me, I want to remember this team for the improvements that we made, the hurdles we overcame and the doubters we proved wrong throughout the season. It eats at my core when people question our toughness, as I know what our guys are truly capable of when they commit themselves to the successful pillars this program was built on. Tuesday night is another opportunity to honestly answer the question, are we tough???


About Mark Pancratz's Blog

A native of Schaumburg, Ill., Mark Pancratz played Division I basketball at UW-Milwaukee, earning his degree in marketing and finance. He joined Tennessee's staff in 2006 as a graduate assistant, earning his master's degree in sports management later that year. Serving as a G.A., director of video scouting and assistant to the head coach, Pancratz was an integral part of Tennessee's six-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. At 26, Pancratz boasts an impressive 18 games of NCAA Tournament experience as a player and/or administrative staff member. He is a member of the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and voted one of the 100 Legends of Illinois High School Basketball. Pancratz resides in Knoxville and is married to the former Brooke Waddell.
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