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.”