A few weeks ago I wrote about some players on the University of Tennessee football team getting into trouble. Three players were arrested and charged with attempted armed robbery. One player got off (he wasn’t present when the attempted robbery occurred) and two others were kicked off the team.
It was a black eye for the team and an embarrassment for fans like me.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve. The basketball team had a huge win over the University of Memphis. It’s an important win for bragging rights–and recruiting. But the next day, four members of the team were pulled over in Knoxville for speeding.
There was an open container and there was a small amount of pot. Not a best case scenario, but troubling. However, a more thorough search of the car turned up two concealed weapons–and on one of those the serial numbers had been altered. What had started out as misdemeanor offenses had just turned in felonies.
Bad news traveled fast and soon the whole sports world knew that Tyler Smith, our best player and a sure bet for the NBA, was involved. All four were suspended bearing further investigation. A few nights later the team played without the four suspended players. They won in convincing fashion against a good, but not great team.
But everyone was still waiting on a decision about the suspended players–particularly since the number one team in the nation, the Kansas Jayhawks, was the next game on the schedule.
On Friday the decision was made. Tyler Smith was dismissed from the team. The other three–who were not starters, but valuable contributors–were still suspended.
And the Jayhawks were coming to play in just two days.
No one gave the Vols a chance. After all, one third of the team was gone.
But the game started out close. The soldout crowd was loud and behind the team.
In the first half, no team led by more than eight and it was tied at the half.
As the second half started, two of Tennessee’s top players went to the bench in foul trouble. But the rest played tough. Kansas was bigger and undefeated. Minute by minute though, the Vols kept up. Leading by two…by five…by six…by three.
Free throws were missed and turnovers put the ball back in Kansas’ hand. The Jayhawks hit a long shot and the Vols’ lead was down to three with a minute to go. Tennessee races down the court and the tough defense of Kansas seems to confuse the players who normally sat on the bench at this stage of a tight game. A walk on, Skyler McBee had the ball and clearly had no idea what to do with it. He leaned one way, then took a step in another. The shot clock was ticking down…4…3…2…and he rose up and awkwardly heaved the ball to the basket.
In it went…three points for the Vols. The game was, for all intents and purposes, over.
The team that had been publicly humiliated and reduced by a third had just beaten the number one team in the country.
With the support of the crowd, they pulled together and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Tennessee history.
Yes, there’s still the underlying problem of athletes, drugs and guns–not just at my school, but at most. These kids are influenced by the pros and they have their own culture of thuggery. Here’s hoping though, that some lessons have been learned.
As for me and the rest of the fans, it’s great night to be a Vol. And that’s a relief.