Ex-Vols glad UT is 'Elite'

Tennessee's basketball fans were thrilled to see the 2009-10 Vols advance past the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in program history; Tennessee's former players may have been even prouder.

Many ex-Vols were watching intently as the Big Orange upset Ohio State in the Round of 16 this past March, only to lose a 70-69 heart-breaker to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. Several of them now playing in the Rocky Top Summer League admit being gratified to see the program reach previously unattained heights.

"It was a great feeling," said former Vol post C.J. Black, who played for Tennessee from 1996-2000. "I was rooting for 'em and I was proud of 'em. I think they deserved it. They did a great job.

"I felt like they could've gone a little farther except for a couple of mistakes and a couple of free throws here and there. That determines the game when you get in the playoffs like that."

Black was reminded of the 1999-2000 squad he represented as a Vol senior. It had North Carolina on the ropes (down by 7 with 4:48 to go) in the Sweet 16 at San Antonio only to go ice cold from the field, enabling the Tar Heels to come from behind and snatch Tennessee's Elite Eight berth.

"We had 'em beat for the whole game," Black recalled wistfully. "We had 'em in foul trouble. Everything was in our favor but the last five minutes got out of control. We couldn't keep our composure to finish out the game."

Ex-Vol Dane Bradshaw played for UT squads that made the Sweet 16 in both 2007 and 2008. Like the 2010 Vols, the '07 team saw its tourney run end with a gut-wrenching one-point loss (85-84) to a Big Ten team (Ohio State).

Bradshaw traveled to St. Louis this past March and watched the 2010 Vols' Elite Eight battle with Michigan State from courtside. It was an experience he'll never forget.

"Oh, gosh, I was there for the game," he said. "Even though they lost I wouldn't have missed that for the world. I've never been more proud of the Tennessee fans and the team, of course. Coach Pearl says all the time that 'Adversity reveals character,' and, boy, did it show on the team this year."

Former Vol C.J. Watson made the NCAA Tournament just one time during his 2002-2006 stint with the Big Orange. As a senior he guided Bruce Pearl's first UT team to the Round of 32 before it fell 80-73 to Wichita State. He agrees that Pearl breaking down the Sweet 16 barrier was a huge step for the program.

"It was big, especially for the university," Watson said. "They hadn't been to the Elite Eight for a while (ever actually), so for him to take them to Sweet 16s and Elite Eights is big for the program."

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