basketball's scheduled tune-up is a good 200,000 miles past due. Outside of Ray Mears himself, no one is more identifiable with the good ol' days than the incomparable John Ward. Why not offer Ward a contract to do 10 games a year, and team him up with Bert Bertlekamp. Bertlekamp brings tremendous energy, and he is a link to the last great team we had, the 1979 Vols, which could boast of three wins over
in the same season. Could you imagine Bertlekamp and legendary Ward on the air for a few select games?
One thing you won't hear from the mouths of Vol fans is how much they love what has happened to this once-proud basketball program. There is simply no sense of connection to UT men's basketball. While the Lady Vols, couched in a culture of winning, build tradition, the men's team has erected a wall between itself and its once loyal fan base. Where's the great communicator when you need him? Couldn't you hear Ronnie saying, "Mr. Hamilton, I'm ordering you to tear down that wall?"
The past gives us our identity. Talk to any Vol fan from the '60s or '70s about UT hoops, and their eyes invariably light up. Tennessee's administration needs to rediscover that past. Mike Hamilton should be congratulated for the way the coaching search has been handled. He did a good job of pushing Tennessee basketball across to the national sports community. Now it's time for him to do the same thing in our own back yard.
It would be fiscally insane at this point to advocate building a Stokely II. So let's attempt to make chicken salad with Thompson Boling and UT men's basketball. It's not just the arena that needs an overhaul. It's our entire presentation of major college basketball.
Do you realize that next season will mark the 30th anniversary of the Ernie & Bernie Show? That's something that needs to be commemorated. That was the last period of Tennessee basketball that fans truly identified with. It's time to recapture that magic. Put a patch on the uniforms with an Ernie & Bernie insignia. And while we're harkening back to that period, how about sticking Ray Mears' name on the arena floor next to Pat Summitt's?
Speaking of recapturing, how about staging some "turn back the clock" nights? Give prizes out on select nights for the folks with the best retro garb. Take four or five home dates out of the year and give people a show with the show. Bring in musical acts from that time period to play after games (KC and the Sunshine Band, et al).
And while we're turning back the clock, let's bring back those sweet old uniforms. Now, I know some of you haters are thinking: "But those uniforms look just like ones the Lady Vols wear." Yeah. And what is your point? The last time I checked, the Lady Vols had six banners hanging from the rafters of the Tommy Bowl. By way of contrast, the men's team has five coaches hanging in effigy. Besides, some all-time great Tennessee teams donned these uniforms. Could you imagine the apparel sales alone that such a move might bring?
Indeed, Tennessee basketball's scheduled tune-up is a good 200,000 miles past due. Outside of Ray Mears himself, no one is more identifiable with the good ol' days than the incomparable John Ward. Why not offer Ward a contract to do 10 games a year, and team him up with Bert Bertlekamp. Bertlekamp brings tremendous energy, and he is a link to the last great team we had, the 1979 Vols, which could boast of three wins over Kentucky in the same season. Could you imagine Bertlekamp and legendary Ward on the air for a few select games?
Since we're reconnecting with the past, it's time to get the students re-involved in the process. Let's not just talk about it or leave it up to the new coach to serve as a catalyst in this. UT needs to reestablish a Greek section that could heckle the refs. How comical was the Greek section back in the old Stokely? It goes without saying that these folks should be near the floor, as should other students. UT needs to take some drastic measures, perhaps even displacing a few donors near the court for the sake of atmosphere, sport and stability.
Finally, playing off the "30 years" theme, I suggest changing the floor's design back to the way it was in 1976. Remember how John Ward talked about Grunfeld hitting from Memphis? In '05-'06, it could be Lofton from Johnson City. And please, while we're at it, let's again emphasize squeezing Ray Mears' name somewhere in the arena along with Pat Summitt's. I propose "The Summitt at Mears Court."
It can't be overstated the degree to which the UT men need their own basketball identity. The Lady Vols' oneness is inexorably linked with Pat Summitt. For the Men's team, it's Ray Mears' era. Mears is Mr. Tennessee basketball. When it comes to the floor, both Mears and Summitt should be honored.
That would promote synergy, as the men and women both honor their standard bearers. The suggestion might make some people angry, but that doesn't make it any less necessary. This isn't about pleasing people, it's about getting it right.
Besides, some people are still outraged that Buzzy Boy was zapped after only four years. So let's give the next would-be victim of Thompson Boring a little more to work with. Failure to dress up the program, both internally and externally, could leave Tennessee spinning aimlessly in Big Orange perpetuity.