``We were wondering if anybody could cheer if they said we were a four or five seed,'' the junior power forward said.
Not to worry. A few minutes later, Tennessee popped up as a No. 2 seed and players popped out of their chairs and began to dance before the Big Dance gets underway this week. The only thing missing was a Trooper Taylor chest bump.
``I told the team, we can't play the no-respect card,'' said Tennessee first-year coach Bruce Pearl, after his SEC East Division team achieved the highest seeding in program history. The Vols were a No. 4 seed twice before.
While surprised at the seeding, Pearl felt his team was rewarded for its high RPI – No. 6 entering the SEC Tournament – tough strength of schedule, two victories over Florida and lop-sided win at No. 2 seed Texas.
The Vols (21-7) will play 15-seed Winthrop – the team that won the Big South Tournament with a victory over Buzz Peterson's Coastal Carolina team – on Thursday in nearby Greensboro, N.C.
Pearl is hoping a team he has called tired will be energized by the high seeding.
``You saw it,'' Pearl said of the way his players reacted to being a two seed. ``I thought a lot of energy jumped off that couch.''
Pearl is also banking on the fact that UT is in the Big Dance will provide a spark.
``We're a team that brings it every night,'' Pearl said. ``It's not that our energy level wasn't that high. It was that other teams, like Arkansas and Alabama and Kentucky, had to win to help their NCAA chances. And they matched our energy.''
Pearl also said SEC teams were familiar with UT's style, which won't be the case in the NCAA tourney.
Many experts felt UT's 6-4 record in the last 10 games and first-game loss in the SEC Tournament would drop the Vols to a five seed . Apparently, South Carolina advancing to the SEC Tournament final helped UT's cause.
``Can you believe it?'' Pearl blurted out.
It appeared the Selection Committee rewarded some teams for their conference tournament play and ignored others. The same could be said for a team's last 10 games.
``You can't control the schedule the last 10 games,'' Pearl said. ``But in those last 10, we won at Florida and won at Vanderbilt. That's part of what we did in the last 10 games.''
Pearl said UT might have benefited from not having played in the NCAA Tournament since 2001.
``The committee is willing to move a team from line to line for seeding,'' Pearl said. ``Tennessee not being in the tournament in several years was a factor. They may have moved us down a line (from a three seed to a two) to get us there (Greensboro).''
Pearl said teams that have been to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis are sometimes shipped to farther destinations than non-regular participants.
Pearl also said the South Carolina defeat in the SEC tourney might not have hurt much because ``they (selection committee members) didn't see us play.''
He was being honest. Out of site, out of harm's way.
Pearl said he was happy not to face his old team, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which won the Horizon League.
``I was dreading it because my wife dreaded it,'' Pearl said. ``It had her in tears. But I think our kids were licking their chops. Let me play them next year.
``It'd have been a pain in the butt to change our play calls. I'd have tricked our own players.''
In Winthrop, the Vols are playing an athletic and experienced team, Pearl said. He said UT has seven tapes on Winthrop, coached by Greg Marshall, a candidate for the UT job when Pearl was hired.
Pearl was asked if he'd ask Peterson for scouting tape on Winthrop. Pearl said no, because the teams are in the same conference.
``If Buzz wasn't in their league, yes, but being in their league, that's something we don't do,'' Pearl said.