Jalen Steele emerged from the locker room and they were waiting —lined up single file to get a hug or snap a photo.
The Steele side of the family, the Kimber side of the family and the Fulton High School family. They all had a smile and a kind word.
"It's tough when you come home,'' said Fulton coach Jody Wright. "It's tough with all that burden trying to prove you were good enough.''
I'd say Steele proved he was good enough Saturday. He grew up dreaming of playing in Thompson-Boling Arena — playing for Tennessee, not against the Vols.
A long-awaited homecoming didn't turn out exactly as Steele hoped. UT beat Mississippi State 72-57.
Steele, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, fired in 13 points in the first half. He spent much of the second half bench-bound due to tightness in both legs, adding two free throws to finish with a team-high 15 points.
"I really showed what my game is in the first half,'' he said. "If my legs didn't tighten up I was going to continue to do that in the second half.''
Steele acknowledged that he did feel a bit of a burden to prove he was good enough. As in good enough to play for Tennessee.
He was Class AA Mr. Basketball as a senior. He was The News Sentinel's PrepXtra player of the year as a junior and senior. He helped the Falcons win state titles as a sophomore and junior.
But UT coach Bruce Pearl was recruiting nationally. He had commitments from blue-chippers Josh Selby and Aaron Craft.
"I wish he would have offered me first,'' Steele said. "I would have been glad to stay here and play for the home team.''
As it turned out, UT landed neither Selby nor Craft and Steele signed with Auburn in November 2009.
To my memory, he's the first Knox County product to sign an SEC basketball scholarship since Doug Roth in 1985.
Then Auburn fired coach Jeff Lebo in March of 2010 and Steele was released. Alabama and Ole Miss were interested, but Steele signed with Rick Stansbury and Mississippi State.
He looked forward to his first homecoming as a freshman, but tore the ACL in his left knee just before State played (and won) in Knoxville.
Stansbury was forced out after Steele's sophomore year. There was some conversation between Steele and coach Cuonzo Martin about coming home to UT. But Martin's friend Rick Ray got the State job.
"I found out that (Martin) and coach Ray were cool,'' Steele said, "so I decided I'm gonna stick it out at Mississippi State.''
He was in the minority. Most of his teammates hightailed it out of Starkville, leaving Ray facing a complete rebuild.
"That tells you about the kid,'' Wright said, "because everybody else was bailing out of there like it was a nuclear leak down there.''
Steele averages a team-high 11.1 points. He lit up Georgia for a career-high 21 last Saturday. His shooting prowess is the first thing you notice, but he credits Wright for making him knuckle down on defense.
"That's what got me to college,'' Steele said.
His summer agendas have included playing in the Rocky Top League and plenty of pick-up games against the Vols, mostly at the student rec building.
Saturday, he finally made it on to the big court in front of the big crowd.
"To hear my name called and it said 'Knoxville,' that felt good,'' Steele said.
We're left to wonder what if his name were called every time the Vols played at home.
But we know this: He's good enough.