The next opponent who stands before us. The final game of our regular season. Our biggest rival. An opponent that our program first competed against in 1910 and has faced more than any other team. A program whose fan base is just as passionate and supportive of their school’s tradition as our Vol Nation. A program we have beaten more than any other Kentucky opponent throughout their history. A program from the state which two of our greatest and most cherished Vols of all time, Chris Lofton and Allan Houston, hail from. A team, coached by John Calipari, who like Coach Pearl, is one of the most successful , enthusiastic and yet polarizing coaches in the country. A program that beat us in the conference tournament last year and whooped our butts earlier this year. A program we have beaten 3 out of the last 4 times in Knoxville. A team that comes into Knoxville Sunday highly ranked, extremely talented and above us in the standings. A team we need to beat.
There isn’t much more that needs to be said to get our players and fans excited for this game Sunday. When it’s Kentucky week, everybody knows what’s at stake. This year, it’s a higher seed in the SEC tourney, NCAA Tournament seeding, and of course, bragging rights. However, the message to our players is different. Sure Coach Pearl may mention the SEC and NCAA Tournament positioning, but to be honest, we remain focused on playing better. How many times have you seen a talented team who has struggled at times throughout the regular season get hot at the end of the year and go on a run? We want to be that team. What has happened in the past is exactly that: in the past. Learned from, now over. We need to take another step forward and improve Sunday.
With a quick turnaround from Thursday’s game at South Carolina, we were limited to how much live, hard contact we could do in preparation for Sunday. Therefore, we took to the film room for more than an hour on Friday and examined some plays from our South Carolina game and then analyzed the Kentucky breakdown film. Our team defense throughout the majority of our first matchup with Kentucky (guarding the ball handler, stopping their transition and rebounding) was highly scrutinized by Coach Pearl (when I say “scrutinized,” envision Bobby Knight throwing the chair after being thrown out while coaching at Indiana and that will give you a better picture of how upset Coach was). As we reiterated during this team meeting, we have no doubt that we will come ready to play with the passion and enthusiasm needed to win this game Sunday. However, the great fan support and that passion alone isn’t going to be what wins us this game. It will come down to the little things such as: Who will set screens, grab rebounds with two hands, make free throws, make the easy pass, be in proper help defensive position, etc.? If we concentrate and then accomplish these little things, I am confident the big one will take care of itself.
There is no greater person that reflects this mantra than the man who our University, Athletic Department and our basketball program is honored to call one of our family members, Allan Houston . There is no doubt in my mind that Allan is more well known for his unbelievable basketball accomplishments (such as, McDonald’s All-American in high school, two-time All-American , four-time All-SEC and UT’s all-time leading scorer; and his illustrious 12 year, All-Star participating, Gold Medal Olympic winning NBA career; and his current role as Assistant General Manager for the New York Knicks) than anything else. But everything I have heard about him, and my few conversations with him, have proved to me that he is much more than a great basketball player. As his Allan Houston Legacy Foundation (http://www.allanhouston.com/index.php) will show you, he is a man of God who values family and making a positive difference through hard work, integrity and leadership. Therefore, when Allan, surrounded by family at halfcourt, watches his jersey taking that honorable journey up to the cherished rafters of legends, he should stand before the 21,000 cheering members of Vol Nation proud not only of his basketball accomplishments but also of his status as a truly legendary role model for us all.
HEY VOL FANS: Email your favorite Allan Houston memories to PancratzFullCourtPress@yahoo.com. These memories cn be from any period of Allan’s life: High school, here at Tennessee, in the NBA, at church, in his community, etc. I will then accumulate all of the emails and present them to Allan Houston at the end of the season as a gift from Vol Nation.
Thanks and GO VOLS!!