First of all, this is not meant to be a eulogy. Not at all.
This Tennessee Vols basketball team does not deserve to be eulogized, it deserves to be praised.
Never have I watched a team that I pull for play with so much intensity.
The '09-'10 version of Volunteer basketball was destined to be derailed barely one month into the season.
One week before playing its first conference game of the season, four Vols were arrested on marijuana and drug charges after the car in which they were driving was caught going over the speed limit.
The Vols best player, senior forward Tyler Smith, was kicked off the team. Three major contributors, G Cameron Tatum, G Melvin Goins, and C Brian Williams were all suspended indefinitely.
Exactly nine days later, the Vols hosted the undefeated, No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks.
With a short bench that included two walk-ons, the Vols shocked the nation by defeating the Jayhawks.
The team played short-handed for much of the next two weeks. Finally, when Tatum and Goins came back, the Vols were close to full strength again.
Williams came back shortly after the Vols had pretty much clinched third in the SEC East.
They took some lumps, losing seven games after the January 1 incident, but the resolve of the team was never, and I mean never , in question.
With coach Bruce Pearl calling the shots, there was never any doubt that Tennessee would be in the NCAA tournament.
Sure, two of the Vols worst losses under Pearl came in 2010, but Tennessee always rebounded after those crushing losses. Losing two in a row twice this season, there was never any doubt that these Vols cared.
In past years when the Vols were decent (otherwise known as the Jerry Green era), there was some serious doubt as to whether anyone cared enough. For if they had, those Vols would have broken the Sweet 16 curse long ago.
Nonetheless, it is Bruce Pearl's fifth Vols team that broke that curse. A team that loves the Big Orange. A team that loves its coach, its fans, and its school.
That is what Tennessee is all about.
With the football program quickly becoming irrelevant on the national scene, it's nice to see a team in orange that is coached properly and is taught to not take life and sports for granted.
That's what Bruce Pearl brings to this program. It's what he's been bringing since 2005.
Pearl's Vols have been the most successful team in Knoxville for the last two seasons.
The previously mentioned football program is still in shambles from Phillip Fulmer's firing, and Pat Summitt's normally dominant program has left the tournament early each of the last two seasons.
For that reason alone, it is time for the Tennessee Vols nation to stand up and applaud Bruce Pearl and the Baller Vols.
Football reigns in the south. I understand that. But lets start giving this basketball team the respect and admiration it so overwhelmingly deserves.
The Vols lost in the Elite Eight to an incredibly well-coached team. Tom Izzo currently is what Bruce Pearl wants to be. Pearl is getting close, but there's no shame in losing to one of the best coaches in the NCAA.
There was no Final Four for these Vols this time around. But there is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that it will happen in the very near future.
Hats off to the Spartans and coach Izzo and especially to these Vols and coach Pearl. You made us true Big Orange backers extremely proud this March.
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