Hoops hoopla

The SEC East champ will be on display when Tennessee and Kentucky tip it up at 8 o'clock Wednesday night and, for a change, it won't be Kentucky. That's just one of many reasons this promises to be a special evening, though.

In addition:

- Former UT head coach Ray Mears and long-time "Voice of the Vols" John Ward will be saluted at halftime. Banners will be raised in honor of the two Vol legends. Mears remains the winningest coach in program history, posting a 278-112 record and a .713 winning percentage. Ward handled play-by-play chores on radio for three decades, earning recognition as Sportscaster of the Year in Tennessee 28 times.

- Orange and white T-shirts will be given to all fans sitting in the lower level of Thompson-Boling Arena, so that wearing them will create a checkerboard effect.

- As the final home game, this will be the last chance fans get to cheer a team that, though pegged in preseason for fifth place in the SEC East race, has earned the division and a national ranking with a 20-5 overall record and an 11-3 league mark.

- It will be Senior Night for UT, with Vol backers getting a chance to say goodbye to C.J. Watson, Andre Patterson and Stanley Asumnu.

Vol head coach Bruce Pearl is excited about the opportunity to send this team out with a fond farewell.

"I hope everybody in the lower bowl will participate and put those orange and white T-shirts on, so we can have the full checkerboard effect," he said. "It'll be something special."

Pearl also hopes his team can give a special performance worthy of the big-time atmosphere this game will have.

As the coach put it: "What can we do that will bring a smile to Coach Mears' face or to John Ward's face, in addition to (drawing) 24,000-plus? That would be to continue to honor the tradition of Tennessee basketball and maybe add a new chapter to it."

Pearl has worked hard to reconnect Tennessee basketball with its past in recent weeks. The Vols have begun entering the playing area through the stands, swapping high-fives with fans as they make their way to floor level. The coach has begun wearing the Mears-style orange jackets for games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. "Sweet Georgia Brown" now blares over the public address system during warm-ups … another touch borrowed from the Mears era of the 1960s and ‘70s.

The best aspect of "the good old days" that has been revived, though, is Tennessee's winning tradition.

As Pearl noted: "It's kind of been a throw-back season, hasn't it?"


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