Aztecs traveling across country for Vols game

NCAA tournament action typically pits untried teams together, who must overcome enormous style differences to maneuver ways to victories. With San Diego State and the University of Tennessee separated by over 2,000 miles, many would suspect the differences to be vaster than the plains, deserts and lakes that sit between the schools. Go "Inside" for our take.

NCAA tournament action typically pits untried teams together, who must overcome enormous style differences to maneuver ways to victories.

With San Diego State and the University of Tennessee separated by over 2,000 miles, many would suspect the differences to be vaster than the plains, deserts and lakes that sit between the schools.

Yet, when the Tennessee Volunteers face off against the San Diego State Aztecs on Thursday night in Providence, Rhode Island, it will not be a matchup of unfamiliar faces.

In fact, coaches and players of the Big Orange share connections with members of the Mountain West Conference men's basketball program.

The ironic ties travel as far up the ladder as head coach Bruce Pearl, who is familiar with Aztecs' assistant athletic director for business administration Chuck Lang.

Lang served as senior men's basketball administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee during Pearl's tenure at the Horizon League program from 2002-2005.

San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher, who is known for his role in leading Michigan's "Fab Five", first started as an assistant head coach at Michigan, where he recruited a young Bill Jones to play for the Wolverines. Jones would later sign with the Iowa Hawkeyes over the Wolverines.

Notwithstanding, Jones is the brother of current Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones, who while working at Southwestern High School in Detroit, Mich., helped groom future "Fab Five" star Jalen Rose.

On the players' side, the connections can be considered an even stronger basketball brotherhood.

Tennessee's roster only includes two players with California ties, both of which have shared experiences with current Aztecs' athletes.

Sophomore guard/forward Renaldo Woolridge, hailing from Sherman Oaks, Calif., developed friendships with Malcolm Thomas and Tyrone Shelley of SDSU when the duo was attending Pepperdine University.

The Waves of Pepperdine were recruiting a young Woolridge, who eventually went on to sign with the Volunteers in 2007.

Starting Aztecs' guard D.J. Gay also played against Woolridge in high school. Gay suited up for Poly High while Woolridge was a contributor for Harvard-Westlake High.

The other Volunteer with Aztecs' connections is junior Melvin Goins, a guard hailing from San Diego, Calif.

Goins has been close friends with starting Aztecs forward Malcolm Thomas since childhood.

After moving to Texas in his sophomore year of high school, Goins enjoyed stops at Ball State and Mt. San Jacinto College before landing in Knoxville.

While in California, Goins played pickup games with the majority of San Diego State's roster during summer months.

Goins' familiarity of the Aztecs' playing style could have the greatest impact for the Volunteers. The guard is currently averaging 15.8 minutes per game off the bench, with four starts at point guard under his belt this season.

Woolridge is averaging 13.5 minutes per game, with 10 earned starts this season. However, in the last nine games, Woolridge has not seen action for more than four minutes.

With two Volunteers so knowledgeable about two of the Aztecs' leading scorers (Gay, Thomas), it is hard to imagine that Bruce Pearl has not already picked the brains of his young athletes.

It's information that can certainly provide the Volunteers with a needed advantage in what could be one of the closer contests of first-round action.

The Volunteers and Aztecs meet on Thursday, March 18 at 9:45 p.m. EST.

Television coverage will be provided by CBS./P>


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