Stansbury believed in Vols

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was an early believer in the Tennessee basketball team.

``Tennessee is for real,'' Stansbury said one month ago. ``I guess everybody needs to wake up and accept that. They're going to be somebody at the end of the year that everybody's going to have to stand up and take note to.''

Stansbury is right. The Vols are the highest ranked SEC team in the AP poll at No. 11. They are tied with LSU for the best overall SEC record (10-2). No team has lost fewer games in the league.

Count Stansbury among those not overly surprised. He said Tennessee has the SEC's best backcourt in C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton, both preseason All-SEC picks.

``I don't think anybody would want to trade Lofton and Watson,'' Stansbury said. ``They're as good as anyone in this league for sure and that's where it starts.

``What Bruce has done, he's been able to elevate all those other guys around Lofton and Watson. Let those two guys play to their strengths, but get everybody else to play to another level of energy. It's pretty remarkable how they're playing. Bruce deserves a lot of credit.''

Stansbury said UT doesn't have wing players like other teams in the SEC ``but they've got great pieces.'' He said the Vols have ``very good talent.'' He said the difference is Pearl ``has really changed the mentality of the team and hiding whatever weaknesses they've got. He's playing to their strengths and they're playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy.''


Tennessee has attracted four crowds in excess of 20,000. The Vols have sold out the Kentucky game and expect to sell out for Arkansas this Saturday. That will be six crowds of over 20,000 – the most since year two Thompson-Boling Arena.

You don't hear any more talk about the Vols playing in 12,700-seat Stokely Athletic Center.

``Stokely was a great place in a lot of fans' minds, largely because we won there and, as a result, we had a great environment,'' said UT athletic director Mike Hamilton.

``Thompson-Boling was built for a reason, and the reason it was built is because we had basketball support at the time that warranted it. Our basketball support has been down for a while and that's our fault. We haven't been putting the right product on the floor.''

With the right product on the floor, Hamilton said ``Thompson-Boling can be a great and intimidating place for opponents to come,'' and that several huge turnouts this season have made TBA ``an electrifying environment.''


It's not often that the UT men's basketball team has lost fewer games in the same season than the football team.

It's only happened once. In 1915, the football team was 4-4 while the basketball team went 15-0.

Four times, the football team has lost as many games in a season as the basketball team. The most recent occurrence was in 1964, when Doug Dickey's first UT team went 4-5-1 while the basketball team was 20-5.

In 1947, the football team was 5-5 and the basketball team 20-5.

In 1922, the Vols were 8-2 in football, 15-2 in basketball.

In 1919, the Vols were 3-3-3 in football, 11-3 in basketball.

This season, the basketball team could lose no more than the football team, though it's highly doubtful. Pearl's team is 19-4 with four tough SEC games remaining, then the SEC Tournament, then the NCAA Tournament.

The football team, of course, went 5-6.


Lloyd Richardson, president of the Big Orange Tip-Off Club, presented Pearl with a placard that had a hand with a thumbs up on one side and a thumbs down on the other so Pearl wouldn't have to scream at officials during West High games.

Pearl took the opportunity to tell a story during his days as head coach at Southern Indiana. On one road trip, Pearl felt his team was getting ripped by the refs. He said it was clearly five on eight.

After a time out, Pearl told one his players: ``I want you to guard that official.''

The player had a puzzled look. An assistant said, ``Just do it.''

So, when Southern Indiana broke the huddle, the player assumed his defensive stance and guarded the official. Stunned, the ref asked, ``What are you doing, coach?''

Said Pearl: ``Coach Tom Davis (Pearl's former boss) always said, `Put your best defensive player on the guy hurting you the most.'''

Pearl didn't say whether he got a technical foul.

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