The doubts may have lingered last year, as the Vols stumbled and bumbled their way through a 14-17 disaster that resulted in the firing of head coach Buzz Peterson.
Any regrets Andre Patterson may have had evaporated this season, however. He has back-to-back double/doubles to his credit and the Vols have a 13-3 record and a No. 19 national ranking heading into Saturday's game with South Carolina. In retrospect, transferring to UT seems like a pretty smart move.
"It was probably the greatest decision I ever made, with Coach Pearl coming in," Patterson said.
Certainly, Bruce Pearl and his staff have made a dramatic difference in UT's fortunes. The Vols were pegged for mediocrity in preseason but the new coach quickly got the players believing in him, in his system and in themselves.
"We believed in ourselves from Day 1," Patterson said. "Last year we believed we could win; we just didn't have the same freedom we do this year to use our athleticism and play. We worked hard all off-season and we expected to win with Coach Pearl. He hates to lose and we hate to lose. He told us we all knew how losing felt, so let's win."
The Vols are winning, all right. One reason is the late-game poise they show that enables them to claim the kind of close games they routinely lost in 2003-04 and 2004-05. What's the difference?
"Just believing we can win with Coach Pearl, man," Patterson said. "With seven minutes left in the game, whether we're down five or up five, we believe the game is ours because he's a tremendous coach … probably the best coach I've ever been around. We know anytime the game is close, if we've got him, we can pull it out."
So, what exactly has Pearl done to transform a losing team into a big winner?
"We work hard," Patterson said. "He instilled our work ethic. He told us that, as hard as we work, we should have confidence in the way we play.
"We out-condition people. We try to beat teams down physically by being in shape. The second half we feel a whole lot of energy, so we beat teams because we fatigue ‘em out."