Strange: The value of sticking with it

Mike Strange

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A week ago, did anyone out there really believe that Sunday would end with Tennessee basketball players standing on chairs at Thompson-Boling Arena waving to a jubilant crowd of 21,936?

Or that a beaming Bruce Pearl would be helping the flag guy wave the giant orange flag?

What a day in Tennessee men's basketball history.

All the more so because what a week it has been in Tennessee basketball history.

My last image of Sunday was UT fans pointing their cell phone cameras at the scoreboard and snapping pictures of the surprising story it told:

Shorthanded Tennessee 76, No. 1 Kansas 68.

"Before the game,'' sophomore Renaldo Woolridge said, "little Pearl, Steve Pearl, told me we were the only people in this gym that know we're going to win this game.

"And that's how it had to be. We're a family. We had to stick together.''

Renaldo Woolridge. Kenny Hall. Josh Bone. Skylar McBee. And, yes, even Steven Pearl. All were heroes in their own way on a day when the Vols wrote the national college basketball headline and forged a new chapter in UT basketball lore.

Tennessee's A-list guys came though, too.

Scotty Hopson, UT's most gifted player, rose to the occasion, adjusting his game to score 11 of his 17 points in the second half.

Bobby Maze played the game of his life, matched against one of the best point guards in America, Sherron Collins.

Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince made timely contributions when they weren't on the bench in foul trouble.

But this win was about the guys who stepped up to fill the void created by the New Year's Day fiasco, the traffic stop that turned into a saga of guns and drugs.

Tyler Smith, dismissed on Friday, made no clutch plays Sunday. Nor will he the rest of the way.

Even if Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams return from indefinite suspension they will regret they played no part in a magical win over Kansas.

Woolridge, a starter now instead of a project, showed up big on the big stage with 14 points and eight rebounds in 34 minutes.

With Chism in foul trouble, Hall, the freshman, did all he could to make life difficult for Kansas aircraft carrier Cole Aldrich.

"This sends a very important message,'' Pearl said. "When things aren't going your way right away, you've got two choices. You can pack your bags and try to find a green pasture someplace else. Or, you can stay because your opportunity is going to come.

"I give Kenny and Renaldo great credit, and their families tremendous credit, for just hanging in there.''

Bone, who left a scholarship at Southern Illinois to play without one in his home state, contributed 12 solid minutes.

Freshman McBee, who came to UT with only the hope of a future scholarship, hit a shot-clock-beating 3-pointer with 34 seconds to play, a dagger in Kansas' heart.

"Skylar McBee and Josh Bone are good players,'' Pearl said.

"Is that shot (by McBee) worth how many hours in the gym, when other kids were going out doing something else?

"It paid off, it just paid off.''

Steven Pearl, the third walk-on thrust into the new rotation, got 10 minutes of work. He missed the front end of two one-and-ones, but had three rebounds, an assist and took a charge.

Said an appreciative father, "Why does he take abuse in practice all the time and never get out there because he's got so many good players in front of him? Why not just be a regular student?

"Because he's got the opportunity to do something like this.''

A something none of them will ever forget.

The Vols are 2-0 since their roster was reduced by four. After Sunday, the gloom is evaporating. Possibilities are intriguing again.

"If this is it,'' Pearl said, "then it doesn't say much.

"They've got to be just excited about playing Auburn on Thursday as they were about playing Kansas today.

"It's all about where we go from here.''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 43

teedub writes:

Pearl's quotes about McBee and SP getting what they've worked for are perfect. I'm glad he said it.

I'm so glad to see "the fight" back in this team!

Go Vols!

volcrazy333 writes:

I love the heart these Vols have. Just gotta keep it up.... Here we come kentucky!

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

What an awesome story. Can't wait for the rest of the season...and so proud of and happy for these guys! (And sooo bummed that CBS showed no post game, and that the online broadcast cut it before any of the interviews.)

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

I love Woolridge's quote (from ESPN.com). "We're just hungry -- ready to go back to the gym," Woolridge said. "We want to work until we have to scrape each other off the floor just so we can have a feeling like this again."

out_of_town_vol_fan writes:

GREAT GAME FELLAS!!!!!! YOU ARE MAKING VOL NATION PROUD!!!!

VOLinGA writes:

Addition by subtraction at its finest!

ucancallmeray writes:

To these hard working players who have made the best of a bad situation, I say BRAVO! This performance brought back memories, not so long ago, of Lofton, Smith, and Bradshaw gutting out a great win over some Goliath that the Vols had "no chance of beating". And to "Sweet Tea McBee", that tre' was right up there with some of Lofton's last minute heroics or the rocket he launched over Kevin Durant. GO VOLS!!

TennesseeTuxedo writes:

Great column Mike! You got to the gist of day-the hearts of the players.

http://www.thevolunteeronline.com

kjneel#238751 writes:

Love this locker room after the win. AWESOME
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtPcCp...

khelton657 writes:

Amazing what happens when you play kids with heart..they are a lot easier to pull for too...hope the other three hoods get their walking papers too....

orangeblood8456 writes:

cbp has got some tough young men, and they have a smart young coach.

rdgshackelford writes:

For the 1st time since lofton left, i felt like UT played smart basketball. we didnt take a very many bad shots, and our wing players consistently tried to drive to the lane. If this team continues to play to thier strengths, they should be able to give Uk a run for thier money in the East

VOLKING writes:

in response to kjneel#238751:

Love this locker room after the win. AWESOME
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtPcCp...

Thanks for the link. That's what it's all about right there. It's great to be a Tennessee Volunteer!!

IBleedOrange444 writes:

Nice article Strange. Great performance by the Vols tonight!

gwills228#231210 writes:

great win!very proud of the team! i have one bone to pick with coach pearl though, why, with only 1:55 to go in the first half,and chism with 2 fouls,decide to put him back in the game? we knew kansas was after him to get him in early foul trouble. and what happens,he gets his third foul! just a bonehead play in my opinion. but regardless,GO VOLS!!!

bosscat writes:

in response to VOLKING:

Thanks for the link. That's what it's all about right there. It's great to be a Tennessee Volunteer!!

Ditto on the thanks to kjneel for the link. Any Vol fan that hasn't seen and listened to those moments is missing a treasure. I've got to say something to those that insist on calling the 4 players involved in "the incident" thugs and hoods. To the remaining players--the ones that just beat Kansas--those players are not thugs or hoods, they are their teammates, their friends. They did not play their guts and hearts out to prove they can win without them, they won that game for them. "We've got your back" is the message being sent to those four young men. At least it's the message from the guys that beat Kansas. You might want to lighten up on your on-line references to the four players in trouble. And if you happened to be in the same locker room as them, I would for sure recommend you watch what you say. "Tough love" is still love.

veinsoforange writes:

Great article Strange! It's nice to read a feel-good article from KNS for a change. You guys are a significant "media"n in the grand scheme of things.

It's just refreshing to read a good storyline for once instead of the typical JA repetitively mundane, doom and gloom, let's inject as much controversial negativity into the surrounding Knoxville area as I can approach!

Once again, Thanks Strange!

veinsoforange writes:

Does ANYONE know where I could get a copy of last night's game? I hope I'm not infringing on any copyright laws or anything by simply asking. I would gladly donate something in return for a copy. Just one HUGE life-long Vol fan that would like to watch that game several times over.

Can anyone help me out or lead me in the right direction?

chl1958 writes:

Thanks to the Players and Coaches for this very inspirational game. Our whole UT Family needed this win. Form the face of adversity comes a beaming Victory. Build on it Team;you can do something for everyone in this morass of our daily living problems. Iam Pumped by your efforts!

easleychuck writes:

in response to khelton657:

Amazing what happens when you play kids with heart..they are a lot easier to pull for too...hope the other three hoods get their walking papers too....

What is it like to go thru life perfect?

Nobody should let the facts get in the way of a fair solution.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to kjneel#238751:

Love this locker room after the win. AWESOME
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtPcCp...

Thanks for the link! That was just great to see! All these guys from all these different hometowns and backgrounds, chanting together, "It's great to be a Tennessee Volunteer!" The feeling in that locker-room is the main reason why so many of us over all the years have felt so compelled to play sports. There is just IS no feeling better than sharing a great victory with guys you have worked and sweated and hurt beside. Those guys will remember that moment until the day they die, and we should all be grateful to have shared it with them, even in such a small way.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to gwills228#231210:

great win!very proud of the team! i have one bone to pick with coach pearl though, why, with only 1:55 to go in the first half,and chism with 2 fouls,decide to put him back in the game? we knew kansas was after him to get him in early foul trouble. and what happens,he gets his third foul! just a bonehead play in my opinion. but regardless,GO VOLS!!!

I know that move goes against conventional wisdom in such cases, but I agree with Clark Kellogg on this. He said that you trust your 4-year starter to be smart enough to avoid fouling like that. You remember that on his first play back in, Wayne got an easy score; his mistake was trying to make a play AT ALL on that drive where he committed his foul. If you say that Pearl should have KNOWN that Chism would do something dumb like that, I can't disagree, but Kenny Hall had already played the most consecutive minutes he had played all season and probably needed a break in the worst way. Hopefully, Wayne learned from that and will have better judgment the next time he is in such a situation.

leedsvol2007 writes:

It just goes to show when you play as a team the sum is more than the total of the parts.

Hopson seems to be benefiting from Smith's dismissal. He showed his all around skill and is far more than just a three point threat.

What a win!

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

in response to kjneel#238751:

Love this locker room after the win. AWESOME
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtPcCp...

Watch this link! Thanks for a great video!

volposter writes:

in response to veinsoforange:

Does ANYONE know where I could get a copy of last night's game? I hope I'm not infringing on any copyright laws or anything by simply asking. I would gladly donate something in return for a copy. Just one HUGE life-long Vol fan that would like to watch that game several times over.

Can anyone help me out or lead me in the right direction?

The Dish satellite menu shows CBS College Sports is repeating the game at 6:30pm (EST) tonight. Channel 152 if on DISH. Many cable companies probably carry this channel as well. Double check the time though as they have been known to change

carbonzip writes:

If they sharpen up their free-throw shooting, they could go to the elite 8. Why don't the jump shooters take jump shots from the foul line?

eduardo writes:

ATTACK!!!ATTACK!!!ATTACK!!!!

veinsoforange writes:

in response to volposter:

The Dish satellite menu shows CBS College Sports is repeating the game at 6:30pm (EST) tonight. Channel 152 if on DISH. Many cable companies probably carry this channel as well. Double check the time though as they have been known to change

Thank You, Thank You VolPoster!

It's also on DirecTV CBS College Sports at 6:00pm.

TommyJack writes:

in response to leedsvol2007:

It just goes to show when you play as a team the sum is more than the total of the parts.

Hopson seems to be benefiting from Smith's dismissal. He showed his all around skill and is far more than just a three point threat.

What a win!

Sometimes you don't know what you have until what you had is not missed.

Canadavol writes:

Up here in Ontario there are not too many fans of the Big Orange. My family thought I was nuts jumping around the room. Go Vols!

GreensboroVol writes:

in response to VOLinGA:

Addition by subtraction at its finest!

Agreed. Let the other three go and let's get players in here next season who appreciate the opportunity they have been afforded.

mivol writes:

in response to veinsoforange:

Does ANYONE know where I could get a copy of last night's game? I hope I'm not infringing on any copyright laws or anything by simply asking. I would gladly donate something in return for a copy. Just one HUGE life-long Vol fan that would like to watch that game several times over.

Can anyone help me out or lead me in the right direction?

You can see it again tonight on CBS College
http://www.cbscollegesports.com/sched...

You might find online video at secsports.com or some other replay site but my connection is too slow at this time to search for you.

hueypilot writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I know that move goes against conventional wisdom in such cases, but I agree with Clark Kellogg on this. He said that you trust your 4-year starter to be smart enough to avoid fouling like that. You remember that on his first play back in, Wayne got an easy score; his mistake was trying to make a play AT ALL on that drive where he committed his foul. If you say that Pearl should have KNOWN that Chism would do something dumb like that, I can't disagree, but Kenny Hall had already played the most consecutive minutes he had played all season and probably needed a break in the worst way. Hopefully, Wayne learned from that and will have better judgment the next time he is in such a situation.

Both the post and the reply make valid points, but having said that Chism was in very good position and was an eyelash from getting the charge. Call could have gone either way and in this admittedly biased fan's view, it went to the marquee player against Wayne. Just saying, it was a really close call to saddle Chism with his third foul.

volfan112 writes:

in response to bosscat:

Ditto on the thanks to kjneel for the link. Any Vol fan that hasn't seen and listened to those moments is missing a treasure. I've got to say something to those that insist on calling the 4 players involved in "the incident" thugs and hoods. To the remaining players--the ones that just beat Kansas--those players are not thugs or hoods, they are their teammates, their friends. They did not play their guts and hearts out to prove they can win without them, they won that game for them. "We've got your back" is the message being sent to those four young men. At least it's the message from the guys that beat Kansas. You might want to lighten up on your on-line references to the four players in trouble. And if you happened to be in the same locker room as them, I would for sure recommend you watch what you say. "Tough love" is still love.

I disagree VOLKING. I think they won that game to prove to the country that we can still compete without the four missing players. AND PROVE IT THEY DID! They played with a chip on their shoulder because no one believed they could win without Smith, Goins, Tatum, and Williams.

martinvol34 writes:

in response to teedub:

Pearl's quotes about McBee and SP getting what they've worked for are perfect. I'm glad he said it.

I'm so glad to see "the fight" back in this team!

Go Vols!

It kind of makes you wonder if any of the others should be allowed back, right? GO VOLS! Very impressive win.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Many of us were dogging Hopson;Woolridge and McBee 2 weeks ago..That has all changed!!!Hopson has adjusted his game by driving to the hoop with much success; McBee is improving by the increased playing time..The biggest suprise is woolridge going from shooting bricks to making game changing 3's..I don't think any of us has an explanation for that..It's great to see Wayne emerge as a true team leader. I see him coaching players on the court during free throws and it's working..Hall is simply doing what Pearl recruited him to do..Thank God the team is learning how to overcome the Zone defenses the opposition loves to use as a last ditch effort to stop us..Right now it's all good...Go Vols

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to martinvol34:

It kind of makes you wonder if any of the others should be allowed back, right? GO VOLS! Very impressive win.

I know a lot of us don't want the other players reinstated but some of them shouldn't be kicked off the team if the charge is not a felony.Using Pearl and Bone off the bench will never be as successful as Tatum and Goins will be..As far as chemistry goes Iam sure the current players would welcome them back with open arms!!!

ps11824 writes:

pj_volnindy writes:
I love Woolridge's quote (from ESPN.com). "We're just hungry -- ready to go back to the gym," Woolridge said. "We want to work until we have to scrape each other off the floor just so we can have a feeling like this again."

With an attitude like that, a college athlete would never get into a car with dirty guns, booze and drugs... it's a coach's dream to have players with that mindset.

One of the greatest sights I saw yesterday on the sidelines was Steven Pearl watching his dad's reaction when he knew the game was in the bag. The look on Steven's face was priceless.

I'd go so far as to say it was a grand day for the Pearl family. The University of Tennessee is blessed to be so well represented.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

The Voice Returns,
I don't even know why I am asking you this, but I am going to anyway...I thought you said in one of your past posts that if BP beats Memphis, Charlotte, and Kansas, then you would talk to us about BP's coaching ability(meaning rethink your opinion of it)??? But obviously, you aren't keeping your word(no surprise there)..I have a feeling that no matter what he does and what games he wins, you will always find something to b@tch about...It's funny that you were in hiding last night because there was not a peep out of you on that article that came out right after the game was over..Several posters called you out, but you never showed. Why is that?? (I already know the answer, but I wanna hear it from you.)Don't even think about getting an attitude either.....Answer me in a rational tone.

CapitolC writes:

Waste no more ink on any irrelevant "voice returning" - not enough substance for character but just enough to type a cry for help

johnlg00 writes:

A few thoughts on the KU game and comments by posters:

1) A lot of us have owned up to our criticism of various players and CBP after their inspiring performances against Memphis, Charlotte, and KU, so I will do the same. JP and Renaldo in particular, I have as much as said that you were wastes of scholarships. I humbly apologize. JP's defense and strong drives were MAJOR factors in the win. Collins was clearly demoralized by that late steal JP got off him, as were his team-mates. Woolridge not only nailed the big threes, he battled on the boards--I frankly did not think he had the heart and desire to do that; just KEEP IT UP! The team responded well to KU's zone defense after Charlotte nearly paralyzed them with one just a few days earlier. CBP went a LONG way toward removing my doubts about his ability to install and manage an effective half-court offense.

2) I stand by my acceptance of CBP's decision to put Wayne back in the game with two fouls just before half-time. Wayne SHOULD have been smart enough not even to TRY to make a defensive play in that situation. The two points he would have given up by just getting out of the way was not worth the eight minutes he couldn't play in the second half or his early departure from the game. Drawing a charge is an important defensive strategy, but it is also a LOW-PERCENTAGE strategy because the refs nearly always give the benefit of the doubt to the offense unless the offensive player looks out of control or the defender is CLEARLY in timely, RIGID position when the collision occurs.

3) The fact that the team could survive such long stretches with Wayne and JP in foul trouble strengthens the argument that the remaining three "fools" should be reinstated only under the strictest possible conditions, if at all. I do think that if they come back, they will be anxious to perform as well as they possibly can and could thus help the team a lot on the court. It is clear that the others seem to still hold them in high regard, so the disruption to team chemistry may be minimal.

4) Fan support for the current team seems to be at an all-time high; KEEP IT UP, FANS! Your support is VITAL as the team continues to firm up its psyche for the SEC gauntlet.

5) The rest of the conference is STILL playing for second place behind UK, though I don't think they are unbeatable. Finishing second behind UK this year will be no shame for any team, because that team could well be the second-best in the country behind the squad UK is building.

I think that is quite enough since I have already gone on too long for today. My apologies! GBO!!! TCB!!!

ps11824 writes:

johnlg00, when you're making good points, it's never enough. What is enough and quite annoying is feckless posers like lanetrainer thinking a real fan is not going to stand in support of its team when they are struggling.

The way this team stuck together and pulled off an incredible win against the #1 team in the country speaks volumes about the fortitude of the coaching staff. They too could have chosen the long-faced persona of many a so-called fan who quickly jumped to grandiloquent conclusions, gave up on the team and crucified the coaching staff.

However, johnlg, I have to believe our team can and will give the kats all they can handle. I believe Coach Pearl will continue to do and say the right things which will arm this underdog team with the weapons necessary to become impervious to the "doubting media, the doubting fan pretenders, and the lanetrainers of the world."

ps11824 writes:

I apologize big time. I was reading with my dyslexic eyes. Please forgive me, lanetrainer. I was addressing a voice returns. My bad...

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