Excitement is back

The talent level of Tennessee basketball is modest. The performance level has a ways to go. But the excitement level, based on Game 1 against East Tennessee State, appears to be the best since the Ernie & Bernie Era.

Feeding off the enthusiasm generated by 21,280 fans, the 2005 Vols routed ETSU 106-83 in last Friday's season opener. The players weren't expecting that type of crowd but they certainly enjoyed it.

"That's a big advantage for us – for the fans to come out and support us in the first game of the season," senior guard C.J. Watson said. "And it was big for us to win, so they'll come back next game."

The "next game" arrives tonight, when Tennessee hosts Louisiana Lafayette at 7:30 in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Several Vols say they've never played before a home crowd as noisy and animated as the one that showed up for Game 1.

"It was a fun game to play, with the crowd and all the hype about Coach (Bruce) Pearl and our new system," Watson said. "It was a chance to show people what we're about, prove his system works and that we can work in his system."

Senior wing Stanley Asumnu also believes the excitement is back in UT hoops. Even the smaller crowds who showed up for two preseason exhibitions showed a lot of enthusiasm.

"The fans are excited," Asumnu noted. "Since I've been here I've never seen this much excitement from the fans. They're all smiling and saying, ‘Good game. Good show. We want to see this more often.' "

Asumnu credits the new level of enthusiasm to the new style of play installed by the new coach.

"This is the style Coach Pearl brings – up-tempo, pressing , running, making things happen," Asumnu said. "Everybody's getting involved."

Including Vol fans. They're getting involved in UT hoops again after staying away in droves the past few seasons. Based on the turnout and enthusiasm for Game 1, Tennessee should enjoy a legitimate home-court advantage this year.

"We want ‘em to be like this every night," Asumnu said. "We want to get 20,000 in here every night, regardless of who we're playing. In order to do that, we've got to win games and keep doing what we're doing."


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