sports (2006-16)

’Twas the season to be dubious

A Pearl among Stones

It’s pretty sad when Tennessee beats Florida in baseball over the weekend and all that most Vol fans can say is, “Oh, well.” Perhaps that is a proper response in light of UT’s own manager, “Rocket” Rod Delmonico, declaring the following after a humiliating midweek loss to UNC-Asheville preceding the Florida series. “This is the worst loss we’ve ever had here at Tennessee. It doesn’t get any worse than this. This would be like Farragut beating our football team,” Delmonico said. Tennessee baseball’s inconsistent week only serves to underscore the unpredictability of the ’05-’06 season in Volunteer sports.

Maybe that old Scottish philosopher by the name of Rodderick R. Toombs (aka pro wrestling’s Rowdy Roddy Piper) had UT’s sports season of ’05-’06 in mind when he proclaimed, “Just when you think you have the answers, I change the questions.” From August through the present on the Hill, nothing has gone according to plan. A baseball season that has seen both UT and Florida labor in anonymity, out of the Top 25, is only the latest chapter in what has been an absurd year. Both Tennessee and Florida were pre-season top-10 teams, yet each is in a dog fight just to land in the top eight in the SEC—the minimum criterion that must be met if either team has designs on playing in the conference tourney.

Tennessee has its own “name-it-and-claim-it” sports analogy going these days. You name the sport and I can make the claim that it’s 180 degrees from where it’s supposed to be.

The Lady Vols went from a national championship favorite to a club searching for an identity in five short months. Pat Summitt’s club, with the unleashing of Candace Parker, was a trendy choice to take the sport by storm, but the Lady Vols couldn’t even get to the Final Four. With the mid-season defection of Sade Wiley-Gatewood (now enrolled at Maryland) and the impending graduation of Shanna Zolman, Pat Summitt obviously realized she couldn’t wait any longer to seize on the Parker mystique. So she reached back, as in back to the deep, dark ’70s. That’s the last time the Lady Vols signed a junior college player. The last one was the unforgettable Zandra Montgomery, who came to UT in ’77 by way of Cleveland State. So consider Pat Summitt’s track record or lack thereof with jucos and remember the sports calendar year we’re in, and it all makes sense. She’s doubled the number the number of junior college signees in the past 30 years. That’s no joke. One signee, Shannon Bobbitt, even has a pretty unforgettable name. She’s a 5-foot-4 point guard from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, and Tennessee will seemingly hand a bulk of the possessions to her or her junior college signing mate Alberta Auguste, a 5-foot-11 wing player at Central Florida Community College. No matter what, Tennessee hits the hardwoods in October with 15 percent of their roster hailing from the junior college ranks. Now that’s changing the questions.

Or there’s Phillip Fulmer. Right about now, I’d like to trade jobs with him when it’s time to cash the checks. Otherwise, no thank you. Here’s a coaching legend who is in such a pressure-cooker profession that many people see him as being on the hot seat coming into ’06. Instead of deflecting the pressure, Fulmer is strangely floating with it. This is the rubber chicken circuit where it’s OK to let the hair down a little bit and tell us all how great the upcoming season will be. So Fulmer tells Ron Higgins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal the following about his expectations for the Vols on the heels of last year’s disastrous 5-6 result. (When it comes to the upcoming season) “I

Mike Hamilton must kiss his checkbook at night and thank his lucky stars for his prized possession. Of course, I write of that Pearl he found in the sea of red ink known as college hoops last spring. In a campus littered with highly appraised sports teams that have performed at times like cubic zirconia, Pearl continues to shine.

Can UT get into the SEC’s postseason in baseball? Will the UT football team contend in the SEC East? Will the Lady Vols squander a Madison Avenue jewel like Parker? Can Bruce Pearl deliver an encore to a coach of the year performance? Got the answers? Good. Because, someplace, somewhere, someone is changing the questions.

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