Apparently, Tennessee's 2005-06 Basketball Vols have discovered that the taste of success is worth the effort. Coming off a 14-17 season, they're working harder in practice. They're pushing themselves in the weight room. They're battling through late-game fatigue. They're chasing after each loose ball as if it's a winning lottery ticket. They're hustling on defense.
There is nothing glamorous about bench-pressing 300 pounds. There is nothing fun about diving on the floor. The Vols do these things simply because they will enable them to taste victory. So far, this recipe' has produced eight wins in nine games.
Last Thursday night's game with Lipscomb was a perfect example. The Vols shot just 38 percent from the floor. They lost the backboards by 10 (43-33). They got just six points from star player Chris Lofton. When you consider these numbers, you wonder how Tennessee won by 11 (69-58).
The explanation is simple: Now that the Vols have tasted success, they really like the flavor.
"We're hungry," senior forward Stanley Asumnu said. "We want to win ballgames, improve from last year. We're headed in the right direction but we can't be satisfied. We've got to continue to work hard in the areas where we're not as good. We need to be sharper on defense and we've got to stop losing the rebounding."
The 2005-06 team probably doesn't want to win any more than the 2004-05 team did. The difference is that the 2005-06 team has shown a greater willingness to put forth the effort necessary to taste success. Because these Vols have invested so much time and energy in preparing to be successful, they have formed a powerful bond that has made them stronger in the face of adversity.
"We're making the plays," Asumnu said. "And we never got down on one another. I struggled from the free throw line (going 1 of 6 vs. Lipscomb) but all of my teammates were still there encouraging me: ‘Don't worry about it. Keep playing. You're doing well.'
"That's what this team is all about – being together, not getting down on each other."
And savoring the sweet taste of success.