As I sit patiently, waiting for the signed scholarship papers to be delivered to my favorite college football team, I find myself thinking about the Tennessee basketball program. The Vols were picked to finish third in the SEC race this season, yet for the third straight year, the Big Orange is flirting with mediocrity. Granted Tennessee is 14-7 overall and 5-3 in the SEC, yet they still have not hit their stride, and it’s getting late.
In defense of Coach Cuonzo Martin and his Vols, they have won two in a row following that crushing 67-41 defeat at the hands of the Florida Gators on January 25th. Both those wins were impressive. A 16 point win at home against a pretty good Ole Miss squad, followed by a 17 point victory at Alabama. The Vols will play at Vanderbilt tonight in Nashville at 8:00 EST.
I have always been a very optimistic follower of Tennessee basketball, and I still am, but something is definitely missing. The Vols have one of the best scorers in the SEC in senior Jordan McRae. They have the best rebounding team in the league as well, yet they’re still only 5-3 in SEC play. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are a couple of beasts in the front court, and Antonio Barton is a more than capable point guard. Still, something is missing, maybe chemistry.
Chemistry was not one of my better subjects in school, but I do understand how important it is for teamwork. If members of a team, no matter what the sport, are not on the same page it becomes very difficult to be successful. Some teams go an entire season without it, and they merely stumble through their season. Others get it late and start winning late, and I’m hoping that’s the case with Tennessee.
The Vols have lost three SEC games thus far, a loss to Texas at home 57-56, after leading at halftime 32-18. That was a game they should have won. Their other two losses have come at #18 Kentucky (74-66) and at Florida, (67-41.) Other than those two road losses, Tennessee has some big wins on the road, (68-50 at LSU and 76-59 at Alabama) but that home loss to the Aggies hurt. 15-6 and 6-2 would look a lot better right now than 14-7 and 5-3.
Tennessee is going to lose a lot of points and rebounds to the NBA and graduation after this season. Coach Martin has obviously recruited pretty well, but it’s hard to win with a very young team in the SEC, no matter how talented they are. It’s time for these players who are looking at their final games for the Volunteers to step up and be leaders.
You can’t force athletes to become good leaders. A good leader is one who can solve those chemistry problems I mentioned. A good leader would have helped to salvage a win over Texas A&M, rather than blowing a fourteen point lead and losing by one. I personally thought Jeronne Maymon was the best leader on the team, and he still could be, but it may not be in his makeup to lead. Perhaps Antonio Barton or Jordan McRae could step up and fill that role.
Regardless, the Vols have 10 games remaining to forge ahead and make the NCAA Tournament. I like this team and I liked them before the season ever started. I still feel they will make the NCAA field, but it would be nice to have that goal wrapped up before play begins in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee is a very talented team, but unless they find a true leader to help them overcome their chemistry problems, these next ten games won’t be a lot of fun.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson, TN. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org