Molder of men

Tennessee fans will always remember Ray Mears as a coach who molded outstanding basketball teams. The men who played for him, however, will remember him more as a coach who molded outstanding people.

"When you're 18 to 22 and going from boyhood to manhood, you remember his leadership and character, the quality person he was – more so off the court than on the court," recalls Bill Justus, a starting guard on Mears' 1967, '68 and '69 Tennessee teams who delivered one of the eulogies at the late coach's funeral last week.

"It was about wins and losses but he gave us a good foundation to get out of basketball someday, be good citizens and be successful. His penchant for discipline and preparation was something you had to pick up when you were playing for him, and it's something we all took with us."

Mears was such a strict disciplinarian that he would be considered an anal-retentive control freak by today's standards. He may not have invented the "My way or the highway" philosophy but he certainly adhered to it.

"The freshman and sophomore years were really something," Justus says. "He loosened up on you after the first couple of years but he indoctrinated you into his system HIS WAY pretty quickly."

An example of Mears' disciplined approach was Tennessee's locker rooms. Each player had to keep his locker neat and organized. "A place for everything and everything in its place" was more than a motto; it was law. For instance, each players' basketball shoes had to be facing the same way, wit h the laces running forward from the arch toward the toe.

"You had to have everything in place," Justus notes. "And you had an assigned seat in the meeting room. It started with the No. 1 seat, who was the captain, and went down to the No. 10 player. If you didn't move up on the playing chart, you stayed down at the bottom of the seating chart.

"You were a second-row citizen."

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