Thanksgiving for a reborn UT menâ’s basketball program should go to the AD
by Tony Basilo
There he sat. As he always does. He was perched slightly to the right of Tennesseeâ’s bench about eight rows up. Right where he always is. The clock was winding down on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007 and the Vols were just putting the finishing touches on a 101-46 blowout win over Division II Arkansas Monticello in something called the Legends Classic. His is the gift of the rebirth of Tennessee basketball. Sure, Bruce Pearl gets a lionâ’s share of the credit. Thatâ’s understood. Whatâ’s lost in the equation is the contribution of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton to the hoops program.
Hamilton has taken Tennessee basketball to the Big Time. Exactly what an awful D-II team was doing on Tennesseeâ’s schedule this night Iâ’m not sure. It wasnâ’t Tennesseeâ’s doing. Something about other clubs not wanting to take part in the event. Smart decision. The lack of competition didnâ’t keep over 1,400 Vol fans home on a stormy night. Great showing.
The Vols netted 101 points on the evening yet I didnâ’t need to look to the brand-new scoreboard in opulent Thompson-Boling arena to find the nightâ’s top scorer. That honor in my book belongs to the 16-year man from Brevard, N.C. Hamilton came to Tennessee as a graduate of Clemson, having honed his skills both in Tiger land and on Tobacco Road at Wake Forest.
When Hamilton arrived in development at UT, Tennessee hoops were a train wreck being driven off the cliff by an overmatched fellow named Wade Houston who was named conductor by Doug Dickey. Some claim Houstonâ’s hire was a brainchild born of the mind of former Tennessee President turned Governor turned Senator Lamar Alexander. Whatever. Truth is, Dickey didnâ’t care about Tennessee hoops. In fact, he was borderline hostile toward it.
Revising the old joke in Rocky Top toward basketball, Ray Mears built it, Don DeVoe killed it, Wade Houston buried it, Kevin Oâ’Neill flirted with it, Green partied with it, and Buzz lost in overtime to it. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your Tennessee menâ’s basketball Volunteers, a program in Rocky Top that is to be seen and not heard from. â“Win more than you lose and donâ’t embarrass usâ” should have been the mission statement.
Then Doug Dickey erred for the better. Right before stepping down, he gave then-Assistant AD Mike Hamilton the job of shadowing the menâ’s program of Buzz Peterson back in 2003. Perhaps Dickey was grooming Hamilton to become his eventual successor by giving him intimate responsibilities within the program. Buzz and Mike became acquainted and Hamilton became smitten. Just not with Buzz (as many believed at the time). Hamilton fell in love with the idea of Tennessee joining other major BCS football powers like Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida in being major players in menâ’s hoops. When he was appointed AD at UT back in â’03, one of the first things Hamilton did was target the menâ’s basketball program.
Hamilton wasnâ’t on the job 24 months when he was forced to blow out his one-time great friend Buzz Peterson. Interestingly, he fought off protests from the likes of Peyton Manning, Todd Helton, Pat Summitt, and half the media contingent in town, who had all became chummy with the wonderful and charming Buzz. Hamilton even stood down internal pressure from Dickey, who was so incensed over Petersonâ’s termination that he chose not to speak to Hamilton for a turn.
Some things never change. Even when he was off the stage, Dickey was still trying to impede progress in UT hoops. Hiring Pearl was a stroke of genius. Most ADâ’s would have stopped there, but it was only the beginning with Hamilton. Everything about Tennessee hoops in the Mike Hamilton era screams â“Money.â” Not in a pejorative sense but in a Bert Bertelkamp.
Upon walking into the arena for the first time, my first thought was â“What have they done to the Tommy-Bowl?â” The new seats. The scoreboard. The lighting. The atmosphere. It all screams upgrade. And it wouldnâ’t have happened without the vision of Mike Hamilton.
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