A year ago, Tennessee basketball combed the beaches of Lahaina, Hawaii. Players that didn't know each other were led by a coach that didn't know the players. Together, they searched for themselves.
"We had no identity," UT point guard Trae Golden said Monday, remembering back to last season's Maui Invitational.
About this time a year ago, the Vols, holding a 2-0 record, traveled to the prestigious exempt tournament. A new coach and an overhauled roster were greeted by Duke.
The Blue Devils, ranked in the top 10, were chock full of veteran talent, and one-and-done freshman point guard Austin Rivers. The Vols, meanwhile, were a collection of unknowns.
"They were trying to find their way more than anything," coach Cuonzo Martin said, adding, "So was I."
Consider that now departed point guard Wes Washpun played 19 minutes in the 11-point loss to Duke. He only played 29 minutes the entire SEC season.
Asked about the difference between traveling to Maui last year and traveling to the Puerto Rico Tipoff this week, Golden shook his head, seemingly rattling long lost memories back from the abyss.
"The difference is that it's a much better feeling," Golden said. "We feel much more confident in ourselves as a team."
Sophomore Josh Richardson echoed the sentiment.
"A lot of it is confidence," he said. "Just going in and playing Duke, first of all. We wanted to beat them and we knew we could play with them, but this year we're so much more confident going into everything."
The Vols will head to the airport from campus at 5 a.m. today. After a connector in Atlanta, the team will arrive in Puerto Rico this afternoon.
Practices are scheduled on the island today and Wednesday.
Play begins Thursday. At 12:30 p.m. Eastern, Tennessee will face UNC Asheville. Coach Eddie Biedenbach's team is coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, but lost the formidable backcourt of J.P. Primm, Matt Dickey and Chris Stephenson to graduation.
Asheville, picked in the middle of the pack in the Big South, is not Duke.
The Vols lost two of three games last year in Maui, beating only Division II Chaminade on the final day to finish in seventh place. They went on to lose their next four upon returning to the mainland.
This time they will be looking for momentum.
If UT gets past Asheville, either Akron or Oklahoma State will await Friday. Neither team is Memphis, which the Vols lost to in double overtime in Maui a year ago.
The final opponent in Puerto Rico will come from a bracket featuring No. 6 N.C. State, Massachusetts, Providence and Penn State.
"Last year it was, let's go show people what we can do," Richardson said. "But at that point we didn't know what we could do. This year we know we're a good team, so the mindset is, let's go win this thing."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn