The Tennessee men’s basketball team officially put the finishing touches on its 2008-09 season Thursday when it hosted its annual postseason banquet at the Knoxville Marriott. A large crowd was on hand to help the Vols celebrate their second straight SEC Eastern Division Championship and fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
“It’s easier to get it going, than it is to keep it going,” head coach Bruce Pearl said. “That’s what I’ve been most proud of—we’ve been able to consistently win and compete for championships.”
Pearl and his staff handed out a number of thanks to their support staff and distributed awards to team members. There also were plenty of light-hearted moments, including a blooper highlight reel of moments from throughout the season and a video in which team members Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams played the roles of coaches Tony Jones and Steve Forbes, respectively.
Pearl opened the awards portion of the evening by introducing a new annual honor, which is to be presented to an individual who makes a special and unique contribution to the program. The inaugural Tennessee Volunteer Award was given to UT athletics director Mike Hamilton, whose “vision for the program” set the stage for the success the program has enjoyed over the past four seasons.
Tennessee over the past four years has averaged 24.5 wins per season, ranked in the top five nationally in home attendance every year, played more than 50 games on national television and attained the program’s first No. 1 national ranking.
Freshman Emmanuel Negedu and departing senior Tanner Wild were co-recipients of the Burchfield-Moss Most Courageous Award. The award, named in honor of Ricky Burchfield and David Moss, is given to the Vol who displays the most courage and desire to overcome any obstacle in their way. Burchfield was a young fan who was afflicted by Leukemia and was “adopted” by the 1969 UT basketball team. Moss lettered for the Vols in 1974 before losing his leg due to cancer in 1975.
Fredda Burchfield, mother of the late Ricky Burchfield, was on hand to personally present the award to Negedu and Wild.
The Team Before Self Award was given jointly to true freshmen Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge.
Sophomore Brian Williams took home the Lowell Blanchard Award, which is presented annually to the Tennessee player who has demonstrated the most improvement during the season. The award is named after the country music pioneer who teamed with former UT play-by-play man John Ward to broadcast Tennessee basketball games on the radio in the 1960s.
Vols strength and conditioning coach Troy Wills presented the annual Strength Award to junior Wayne Chism.
Pearl presented leading-scorer Tyler Smith with the Coach’s Award, and Smith also was given a matted copy of the March 20, 2009, Wall Street Journal. On that date, Smith became the first amateur athlete ever to appear on the front page of that national daily newspaper.
Tennessee’s complete cast of practice-squad team members also was presented with the Coach’s Award. Recipients included Josh Bone, Quinn Cannington, Daren Chandler, Ryan Childress, Michael Hubert, Justin Jackson, Steven Pearl, Tyler Rosenbaum and Tanner Wild. Those players were saddled with the twice-weekly task of learning and executing the plays of Tennessee’s upcoming opponents during practice throughout the season.
Team academic advisor Kelly Brock closed out the awards portion of the banquet by handing out a pair of academic honors. The Highest GPA Award went to psychology major Hubert, and the Best Academic Effort Award was given jointly to Hopson and Negedu.
Brock also recognized former Vol point guard Tony Harris (1998-2001), who was not present Thursday but did return to UT after his professional basketball career to earn his degree last December and was recently awarded a prestigious Chancellor’s “Most Improved” Honor from the university.