Tony Jones showed up on the opening night of the Pilot Rocky Top League on Wednesday to be a fan.
His stint as Tennessee's men's associate head basketball coach is over after he, along with the rest of the former staff, represented the program one final time at the hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions last Saturday in Indianapolis.
"I'm here to see the guys play and support them,'' said Jones, who while on the UT staff wasn't permitted by NCAA rules to attend the summer league games at Bearden High School. "I want to see them do well and continue to improve. I look out there and see Cam Tatum, Jordan McRae, Trae Golden and Kenny Hall - I recruited those guys, and I care about them.''
There was both pride and pain in Jones' tone of voice as he watched his former players compete with one another.
In many ways, it's just as hard on the players.
"I just hope it works out for the coaches,'' Golden said. "I appreciate what Coach (Bruce) Pearl, Coach Jones, Coach (Jason) Shay and Coach (Steve) Forbes did for me.''
Pearl finds himself in an awkward position; his separation agreement with UT bans him from interfering with the team or serving as a distraction to the players.
2011 Pilot Rocky Top League
"I care about the guys and I respect them, but I don't want to be a distraction and I have to respect the new coaching staff,'' Pearl said. "I've stayed in touch with Scotty (Hopson) and Tobias (Harris), and Tobias invited me to attend the draft with him, which I consider an honor.''
John Fields, who played his final season at UT, said watching the coverage of the NCAA hearing was hard.
"It was definitely tough to watch them walking out of that room this weekend,'' Fields said. "Just to see how everything has changed in the past year is hard to believe.
"I'm just glad closure is coming, and we can all put this behind us.''
The Vols won't know what punishment the NCAA doles out for at least another eight weeks, as there's a minimum of 60 days after the hearing before the penalties can be announced.
"Coach Pearl is a good man,'' McRae said. "I believe he will be fine, and the basketball program will be fine, too.''
In the meantime, there's a lot of healing taking place.
"I think we all feel bad, having had such a great relationship with all of the coaches and their families,'' said former UT standout Dane Bradshaw. "No one can ever take away all that we accomplished playing for Coach Pearl, but it is hard to see the program take a step back.
"I'm confident Coach (Cuonzo) Martin has the program headed back in the right direction, and we're all ready to support him.''