By Steve Williams
Just like Tennessee’s football program is trying to end a bowl drought this season, the basketball Vols are aiming to make it back to the NCAA tournament.
I’m not going to say Cuonzo Martin is on the hot seat, but it is very important for him to be dancing come March.
Another trip to the NIT would create a lot of grumbling among the fan base, particularly with former coach Bruce Pearl still in town and eligible to start coaching again.
Athletic director Dave Hart’s phone would be ringing off the hook.
Local sports talk radio show hosts would have a coaching controversy on their hands.
Bring Back Bruce might even go up on a billboard.
Cuonzo is a good coach, a good man and a good leader of young men. But in today’s collegiate sports world, unfortunately, that may not be enough. Victories and championships are what sustain coaching careers.
Winning is important to Coach Martin, too. And on paper, heading into the fast-approaching 2013-14 basketball season, this should be a very successful season for the Vols.
For the record, I’m pulling for him. I’m hoping he wins enough games and championships to be our coach for many years.
As for the UT women’s program, it’s still a little hard to believe Pat Summitt isn’t the head coach. She had been a fixture on the Tennessee sports scene for so long, a pioneer for the women’s game and one of our country’s greatest coaches of all time. I hope Head Coach Emeritus is not just a title, and she’s doing well and is still able to contribute to the great program she built over the years.
Longtime assistant Holly Warlick took over and did a Pat-type job (I couldn’t think of a better adjective) in her first season as head coach last year. I admit, after that season-opening loss at Chattanooga, Holly exceeded my expectations. The Lady Vols, in fact, exceeded a lot of folks’ expectations as they won the SEC regular season championship, after being predicted to finish fifth. They advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney before falling to Louisville.
But as much as I was impressed with what Coach Warlick accomplished on the court, I admire her even more for how she’s handled the coaching transition with such class and respect for Coach Summitt.
The Lady Vols’ program is still in good hands.
There’s still a lot of football to be played, but the long basketball season will be tipping off in just a few days.
The “exhibition season” begins this coming weekend. The Vols’ first preseason game, against Florida Southern, will be Saturday afternoon at 1 at warm and comfortable Thompson-Boling Arena. UT fans will have time to check out Cuonzo’s third team before watching Butch’s football Vols win at Missouri later that evening.
The Lady Vols will host Carson-Newman in a preseason game next Monday night (Nov. 4) at 7 p.m. Admission to the exhibition games is only $5 and it’s a good way to check out the teams up close as plenty of lower level seats are usually available.
Basketball season starts for real on Nov. 8 when the Lady Vols open at MTSU in Murfreesboro. The Vols also start out on the road at Xavier on Nov. 12.
I look forward to checking out Antonio Barton, the senior point guard and transfer from Memphis. And it’ll be good to see a healthy Jeronne Maymon back and teaming with Jarnell Stokes in the paint. They’re both listed at 6-8, 260. Of course, All-SEC wing Jordan McRae returns and he could contend for Player of the Year honors in the conference.
Meighan Simmons, SEC co-Player of the Year last season, and Bashaara Graves, the league’s Freshman of the Year, head up a solid group of Lady Vol returnees, who won’t be satisfied unless they make the Final Four.
Here’s hoping that kind of desire will spread over into the men’s program someday soon. It used to be under Bruce, didn’t it?
I better be quiet before I get Hart’s phone ringing.
Cuonzo can get it done. And I’d bet he also can cut a rug.