Vols say players' meeting after N.C. State loss helped lead to recent turnaround

Tennessee's Derek Reese and Virginia's Justin Anderson reach out for the rebound at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, December 30, 2013. Tennessee won 87-52. 
  
 (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's Derek Reese and Virginia's Justin Anderson reach out for the rebound at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, December 30, 2013. Tennessee won 87-52. (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

They filed into D’Montre Edwards’ dorm room on White Avenue, using the TV stand and kitchen counter as seats once the chairs were full. There were no coaches. Just 15 frustrated Tennessee men’s basketball players who had plenty on their minds.

The Vols were 6-4. It was too early to panic, but too late to keep saying, “It’s a long season.” So the team’s seniors — Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Antonio Barton and Edwards — arranged a private discussion. Nearly a week and a half went by before Josh Richardson let it slip.

After UT (8-4) beat Virginia 87-52 at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, the junior guard mentioned the Dec. 19 conversation he and his teammates had the day after their 65-58 loss to N.C. State.

Antonio Barton talks about the Vols' blow out win against Virginia

“We just talked some stuff out,” Richardson said. “And we’ve been putting it into action on the court It was just a talk. It was nothing serious.”

But so far the impact seems to be significant.

“Losing to N.C. State how we did, games like that, those can be turning points,” McRae said. “You don’t want to lose at home. And then how we lost. It was totally on us. You couldn’t blame anybody else. You couldn’t blame the refs. It was just our fault. Games like that are definitely games you look at. OK, something has to change before it is too late.”

Players were hesitant to recite the exact transcript of the talk, which touched on everything from team chemistry and playing style to specific individuals’ mistakes. Instead they offered summaries of how the venting session helped.

“People were trying to write us off,” Richardson said. “We were like, just play our game. Play comfortable. We felt like we were playing too tense.”

“Everybody went around the room and said what they see out there,” Barton said. “Because at the end of the day the coaches are not out there playing. They can only tell us so much, do so much. There are five guys out there on the court. We’ve got to make things happen.”

Cuonzo Martin, on UT's win over Virginia

“It’s hard sometimes hearing it from a coach who is always coming down on you,” McRae said. “When you hear it from one of your friends, one of your players, one of your peers, who says, ‘Jordan, you need to do this better,’ Hearing it from them, you really sit back and look at yourself. OK, this is what I need to do to help us win.”

Cuonzo Martin, who knew nothing of the meeting when it occurred, isn’t interested in the details now.

“None of my business,” the Vols’ coach said Monday night. “They have to be men and lean on each other.”

He likes the results, though.

His Vols have won back-to-back games. Beating Morehead State was nothing to puff their chests out about, but the newfound spark carried through the holiday break and burned bright in the blowout of a Virginia team that held the Vols to 38 points in a loss last season. On Monday, UT reached 39 points with 4:36 to play in the first half.

“Tennessee went into the season with a reputation,” Martin said. “You make adjustments as you go. Guys continue to get better. These are some of the results, what our team could and should look like.”

The Vols averaged 51.3 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from 3-point range and 70 percent from the free-throw line in their past two games. During the same stretch they have held opponents to 36.9 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from behind the arc.

The players linked the turnaround to whatever was said in Edwards’ crowded room.

“I had no idea it would make this big of an impact,” forward Jarnell Stokes said. “I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or not, but since the players’ meeting the guys have had their heads up when we’re at practice and in games. And the numbers show.”

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Comments » 13

johnlg00 writes:

There is a certain look, a certain way of seeing each other on the court that mature, winning basketball teams have. Simply put, their heads are in the game. I get the feeling that what we are seeing on the court that looks like better cohesion is a mutual recognition of what is going on and what is supposed to happen, along with a willingness and ability to communicate. Good teams are always doing more than poorer ones with eye-contact and subtle gestures to alert each other to advantageous situations, in part because it is important for them to make the effort to do that.

murrayvol writes:

I'm glad they've won a couple of games convincingly but will wait til a few more cows come home before calling this an epiphany.

tntuba#225866 writes:

Further conformation we don't have the right guy running the show. Can we PLEASE and I mean PLEASE call this one what it is? CCM is another CDD. End it before it does too much damage and come off some money and hire a REAL coach.

ChadBTindell writes:

in response to tntuba#225866:

Further conformation we don't have the right guy running the show. Can we PLEASE and I mean PLEASE call this one what it is? CCM is another CDD. End it before it does too much damage and come off some money and hire a REAL coach.

There's another way to read this. CCM has instilled responsibility into his players. No whine, no blame and lots of accountability to each other. Some coaches lose their team to complaints about PT, roles, criticism, tough practices. Not so with CCM. In fact, just the opposite.

I've attended most every game this year. I was very disappointed after NC State. A bit more encouraged now. Playing hard and making shots will do that. Some of that is on the players.

The jury is still out on CCM, his staff and this team. Let's see where we are in February.

drgoofy#432342 writes:

in response to tntuba#225866:

Further conformation we don't have the right guy running the show. Can we PLEASE and I mean PLEASE call this one what it is? CCM is another CDD. End it before it does too much damage and come off some money and hire a REAL coach.

Have you ever been a part of a competitive sports team? I'm a 63 year old female former college athlete, and I recall a players only team "prayer meeting" after a loss similar to the NC State one. It led to a VERY successful season. These sessions are cathartic and are characteristic of good teams with strong leadership.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to tntuba#225866:

Further conformation we don't have the right guy running the show. Can we PLEASE and I mean PLEASE call this one what it is? CCM is another CDD. End it before it does too much damage and come off some money and hire a REAL coach.

Ha-ha-hah! Oh, wait...you meant for us to take that seriously. A coaching staff and a team taking accountability to each other for stepping up their games. What a concept! And it worked! And they will all likely try to do it again. Yeah, let's just let it all go as a bad job and cancel basketball altogether. No, wait...; you meant for us to take you SERIOUSLY? WOW!

JSmith525 writes:

in response to tntuba#225866:

Further conformation we don't have the right guy running the show. Can we PLEASE and I mean PLEASE call this one what it is? CCM is another CDD. End it before it does too much damage and come off some money and hire a REAL coach.

I'll let those in the know make those type of decisions. I really don't think a tuba player is qualified! Just a thought!

bUTch__please writes:

This teams performance on the SEC road will be the crucible test for the 2A. They've already tossed early season RPI opportunities away. If they put their money where their mouth is in Baton Rouge...strong step forward.

sfox writes:

For whatever reason, this was a totally different team vs. Virginia. Fundamentally, this team is solid. That is coaching. But, you have to make baskets to win games. Lack of doing so is also coaching. Confidence and cohesion seems to be the key. Where the heck has Richardson been. He was THE difference in this game. All I can say is do whatever you need to keep it up. Oh yeah, paying at a higher pace may also be a key. They play better together when they play quick...just my observation.

magicbyswh#221420 writes:

in response to tntuba#225866:

Further conformation we don't have the right guy running the show. Can we PLEASE and I mean PLEASE call this one what it is? CCM is another CDD. End it before it does too much damage and come off some money and hire a REAL coach.

So who do you recommend we anty up and hire?

TommyJack writes:

The proof is in the pudding. Will wait and see.

no1djkb#278630 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Ha-ha-hah! Oh, wait...you meant for us to take that seriously. A coaching staff and a team taking accountability to each other for stepping up their games. What a concept! And it worked! And they will all likely try to do it again. Yeah, let's just let it all go as a bad job and cancel basketball altogether. No, wait...; you meant for us to take you SERIOUSLY? WOW!

Wow John I never saw you bring it like that LOL! It was kind of a crazy post.
You know I am going to give up on figuring this team and the coaching staff. At first I thought it was the players playing too tight and not listening to what the coach was telling them, then I thought maybe it was the coach which was disappointing to me because I thought CCM would help these players become men and being a father of two boys I would want my sons to play for a coach like him.
Now after this players meeting it seems as if it was the players more than coaching. Well whatever was said and not said I hope these boys put it together. These are the years that you cherish, playing big time basketball and you can pass it on to your children.
I like what CCM said when he was asked about the meeting. "None of my business." He wants these guys to be responsible men and in the end guys, I want a coach that will make basketball players into responsible men. Oh we need the wins to come with it too:).

johnlg00 writes:

in response to no1djkb#278630:

Wow John I never saw you bring it like that LOL! It was kind of a crazy post.
You know I am going to give up on figuring this team and the coaching staff. At first I thought it was the players playing too tight and not listening to what the coach was telling them, then I thought maybe it was the coach which was disappointing to me because I thought CCM would help these players become men and being a father of two boys I would want my sons to play for a coach like him.
Now after this players meeting it seems as if it was the players more than coaching. Well whatever was said and not said I hope these boys put it together. These are the years that you cherish, playing big time basketball and you can pass it on to your children.
I like what CCM said when he was asked about the meeting. "None of my business." He wants these guys to be responsible men and in the end guys, I want a coach that will make basketball players into responsible men. Oh we need the wins to come with it too:).

I had just sat down at the keyboard after being away for a week and fresh off a 5-hour drive after a fun but hectic time with much of my vast extended family. Coming off their two best games of the year, for somebody to say right then that the only thing to do to save the situation was to fire the coach RIGHT THEN...well, let's say I slipped into a mode of expression I try not to overuse.

From what I can tell, both the relationship between the players and staff, and the one among the players on the team, seem to be just about optimum for a prolonged stretch of excellent basketball. The potential is there for this team to really catch fire. Better late than never, I guess. I just hope they have enough closing kick THIS time. The BIG games start REAL soon!

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