Several weeks ago, I received a phone call from Steve Early, the vice president and general manager of IMG College Sports, “The Vol Network”. He asked if I would be interested in filling in for “Voice of The Vols” Bob Kesling, when the Tennessee men’s basketball team plays in San Juan Puerto Rico in November. The U.T. football team will be playing at Vanderbilt that weekend so Bob would not be available to go. I eagerly said yes, even though it had been seven years since I had done basketball play-by-play on the radio. (There is a difference in radio and tv play-by-play.)
My broadcast partner for the three games in San Juan will be popular former Vol, Dane Bradshaw, and the Vol Network also invited my wife Shelia to go as well. So, while I hone up on my radio play-by-play preparations, Shelia is packing her swimsuits and sun block for a few days at the beach.
The Puerto Rico Tip-Off is a made for television, early season college tournament, staged by ESPN Regional Television, a subsidiary of ESPN. The 2012 event is the sixth annual Tip-Off, and it will be played at the 9,000 seat Coliseo Rube’n Rodriguez in Bayamon. Tennessee joins seven other schools in the tournament to be played November 15, 16, and 18. The Vols will draw UNC Asheville in their first contest on Thursday November 15th, at 12:30 pm EST. (Puerto Rico is on Atlantic Time, which is an hour ahead of the eastern time zone.) If the Vols can win over UNCA, they face the winner of the game between Akron and Oklahoma State on Friday November 16th, at 10:30 am EST.
Oklahoma State lists 6’-11” senior post player Phillip Jurick on the roster. Jurick is from East Ridge and was a member of the Tennessee basketball team his freshman season. North Carolina State, Penn State, Providence, and UMass are the other four teams in this year’s event.
Tennessee’s second year head coach Cuonzo Martin said, “ We’re looking forward to representing the SEC in Puerto Rico this November. It’s a quality field and should provide a great early test for our team. Every team in the field had an RPI near the top 150 last season, and they’re all well coached. From a fan perspective, you can’t ask for a much better destination than San Juan. You’ve got great weather, great beaches, and great basketball.”
An SEC team is the tournament’s defending champion, as last November Alabama scored a 65-56 win over Purdue for the title. While the Vols would love to make it two in a row for the SEC, N.C. State and UMass are considered as co-favorites. The 2011-2012 Vols were 19-15 in Coach Martin’s first season as head coach, but they were a much better team at the end of the season than they were earlier in the year. They barely missed an NCAA Tournament bid, and lost an early round NIT game to Middle Tennessee State. This year’s squad should be a lot better; they’re ranked 17th in the pre-season Top 25 poll, and picked to finish fourth in the SEC.
We all get an early look at the Vols on Friday night as they host Kennesaw State at 7:00 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be televised on Fox SportSouth and Bill Justus will join me on that broadcast.
Last season, Tennessee paid a visit to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. I didn’t get to tag along on that trip, but I’m looking forward to seeing Puerto Rico. It’s supposedly a beautiful country, but chances are my beach and touring time will be at a minimum. I may have to ask my wife Shelia to tell me about what I will miss. Dane Bradshaw and I will be pretty busy!
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).