As the Pilot Rocky Top League draft began at Ray's ESG on Wednesday night, Tennessee basketball players Jordan McRae and Kenny Hall followed top pick James "Boo" Jackson as the draft's No. 2 and No. 3 picks.
The Vols' supporting cast is the main act this summer.
With UT's top three players — Trae Golden (knee surgery), Jeronne Maymon (knee surgery) and Jarnell Stokes (traveling with the United States U18 team) — unavailable for Rocky Top League play, the unheralded are now the heralded.
McRae and Hall, along with teammates Skylar McBee (second pick, second round), Josh Richardson (fifth pick, third round) and Yemi Makanjuola (first pick, fourth round), among others, the Rocky Top League offers an opportunity to steal some spotlight at Bearden High School.
"It's good for those guys to go out there and get some attention and name recognition," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Thanks to a change in NCAA summer contact rules, Martin and his staff are permitted to attend the league's upcoming games. That doesn't mean, however, that Martin will be sitting courtside demanding restrictions in the annual defense-free dunk-fest.
"I expect all of them to go out and compete, but that's probably not a place for me to go watch them," Martin said. "A player has to be able to let his hair down and things can't always be so high and competitive. We do that in the practice. They can go have fun."
The league's most Vols-laden team comes from R. Larry Smith Insurance. Former UT players Bobby Maze, Ron Slay and Jon Higgins will guide a roster featuring McBee and Richardson.
Additionally, recent UT graduates Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins will play alongside current team members Makanjuola and Brandon Lopez for
the Knoxville News Sentinel team, while Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Stephen Pearl will do the same with UT walk-ons Rob Murphy and Galen Campbell on Rice Buick GMC. Hall and former UT star Tyler Smith will share a frontcourt on a Campus Lights team also featuring incoming freshman Derek Reese.
Pat Walden, a walk-on member of Tennessee's 1983 SEC championship team, is in his sixth season coaching in the Rocky Top League. Despite drafting the lone team void of Vols, he noted that the league is a thread that ties together the program's immediate past.
"It encourages a lot of bonding among the former players and the new players and gives them a sense of the tradition that Cuonzo is trying to build on," Walden said.
The six-team Rocky Top League will begin Monday with three games.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn