An eventful offseason

A Tennessee basketball team that was one blocked shot from advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight last March continues to build momentum.

The Vols recently returned to the practice floor after a most productive offseason. Consider:

- They stayed in Knoxville and stayed in shape by participating in the Rocky Top Summer League.

- Most of them traveled to Europe in August, bonding as teammates while participating in a productive exhibition tour.

- They saw the renovation of Thompson-Boling Arena and the near-completion of the Pratt Pavilion, Tennessee's impressive practice center.

- They added a potential superstar in Iowa transfer Tyler Smith, who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.

- They were pegged as a potential Final Four team by many respected analysts.

- They saw season ticket sales soar to mind-boggling levels.

Head coach Bruce Pearl, not normally given to understatement, conceded that it was a "good offseason," adding: "I was really pleased with the Pilot Rocky Top League because I think a good place was created for our student-athletes to train and compete. That's something they can look forward to in the summer."

Pearl also sees the summer league as an attractive option for former Vols.

"Some of our pro athletes came back," the coach said. "It was great having Ron Slay back in that league. He likes playing here.... And C.J. Watson is talking about making Knoxville a home for him."

Likewise, the coach believes the practice facility is sure to be a tremendous benefit for Tennessee's players – present AND past.

As Pearl noted: "The Pratt Pavilion is also going to be an attraction for our Vols who are going to be moving on and hopefully playing professionally."

The coach is so pleased with the renovation of Thompson-Boling Arena that he seemed nearly overcome with emotion as he discussed it.

"The Arena is absolutely off the charts," he said. "We've taken America's largest on-campus facility and we've made it into America's No. 1 basketball venue. I've never seen anything as nice as Thompson-Boling Arena. It's spectacular.

"I am absolutely humbled to think that Pratt Pavilion is our classroom and Thompson-Boling Arena is where we get to play our basketball."

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