Tennessee Basketball: Have the Vols Finally Become a Team?

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IJanuary 11, 2010

My first reaction after watching the Vols upset No. 1 Kansas was, "Is this the biggest win in the history of the program?"

I believe it is. Maybe you can add some in the discussion portion of this story, but considering the circumstances surrounding this one, I say it's the biggest.

My second reaction was, "Am I dreaming?"

The answer to that was "Heck no!"

Now I sit here typing this story and I'm still a little fuzzy on the details, to be quite honest.

It's like I went to sleep shortly after the arrest of the four key Vols players on New Year's Day and woke up as the team was celebrating its win over the undefeated Jayhawks.

As I searched for the meaning of this extraordinary triumph, I stumbled upon a quote from Kansas coach Bill Self following the game.

"I do not think Tennessee was a team until this past week. I do not think Kansas is a team yet," said the coach of the '07-08 National Champs.

That quote alone speaks volumes to this Volniac.

Shortly after the 16 point win against Charlotte, the first following the incident, I wrote that maybe, just maybe the Vols would actually benefit from losing Tyler Smith and his three amigos.

Maybe Smith was holding the Vols back. Maybe having a "star" on the team was hurting the whole group.

I believe it's still a compelling argument.

The remaining players counted on Tyler Smith to be the one to come through in the clutch. He was their crutch.

Maybe that works for Kentucky or North Carolina, but if you haven't noticed, Bruce Pearl is very different from John Calipari and Roy Williams.

The style of play he demands of his players is geared to team effort. It's geared to everyone playing their butts off for 40 minutes a game.

At Kentucky, it's become the "John Wall Show." At North Carolina, it was the "Tyler Hansbrough Show" for the past four years.

At Tennessee, it appears to have finally become "The Volunteer Basketball Show." 

I wrote in this very space that Scotty Hopson and Wayne Chism had to contribute more than they were for the Vols to move into "elite" status. I chimed in on J.P. Prince taking a more active role in playmaking.

The pundits all said point guard play was hampering the Vols. That's been the case for four years now.

On Sunday, however, all of those questions finally came together with a resounding answer.

The Vols played as a team for 40 minutes.

The point guard, Bobby Maze, virtually shut down Player of the Year candidate Sherron Collins. I realize Collins scored a game-high 22 points, but it was his 7-of-20 from the field that shows how well he was guarded. Throw in his 2-for-10 from three-point land and you can further see my point.

In addition, Maze scored 16 and had seven rebounds and eight assists against the No. 1 team in all the land.

How about Scotty Hopson? He led all Tennessee scorers with 17. Further proving my point that if Hopson has a good night, the Vols have a good night.

Renaldo Woolridge, who did not even make the top-eight rotation out of preseason, threw in 14 points for the Vols. Wooldridge will be heavily counted on from here on out.

Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince, the de facto leaders on this team now, had eight points each while playing in foul trouble for much of the second half.

Walk-ons Skyler McBee and Josh Bone hit big three-pointers in the second-half.

Kenny Hall proved to be a young, but very talented asset by pulling down five big rebounds.  

Looking back to the Charlotte game, the Vols scoring line is much the same. Woolridge with 10 points, Chism with 18, Maze with 13, Prince with 10, and Hopson with 17.

That's picking your teammates up when they need it.

That is team basketball.

This Tennessee team has come together during a rough time. This Tennessee team is now playing like one unit with one goal.

Tennessee fans have waited a while to see a Vols men's team do this well.

Now that the Vols are finally a team, this may not be the last "biggest win ever."


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