Geraldo Orta. Marlin Lane. Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. Curt Maggitt. These are the names of four of the high school seniors who decided to visit the Tennessee campus when ESPN brought their Gameday crew to Thompson-Boling Arena to watch the Vols take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. The crowd was electric, and Tennessee gave them something to cheer for with a second-half run that erased a seventeen point deficit and propelled the Vols to a 67-64 victory. The four high schoolers committed to play for the Tennessee football team, and two have earned starting roles by their sophomore years.
Now the football team has a chance to return the favor. ESPN is bringing College Gameday to Neyland Stadium for the first time since 2004, and Cuonzo Martin is taking advantage. In addition to numerous football recruits (headlined by 5-stars Derrick Green and Derrick Henry--see Brad's post for details), Robert Hubbs, a 5-star shooting guard from Newbern, Tennessee with offers from Duke, Florida, and Memphis (among others), rated by Rivals as the 12th best player in the country, and Jonathan Williams III, a 4-star power forward from Memphis rated 47th nationally and holding offers from Arkansas, Florida, Memphis, and Texas, will both be on campus for official visits on Saturday. Moreover, six highly-rated underclassmen will be coming on unofficial visits.
In addition to treating the young hoops talents to a wild atmosphere that promises to be one of the best Knoxville has seen in some time, Martin is providing an opportunity for the fans to show off their support for the other major sport on campus. The basketball team will have an open practice Saturday afternoon at 2 PM in Thompson-Boling Arena--two hours after Gameday ends and two hours before the Vol Walk. Not only will it be an opportunity to show eight high-profile players the rabid support they can expect from the Tennessee faithful, it provides an exciting opportunity to catch an early glimpse of a second team on campus with loads of promise for this season. Tennessee returns all but one contributor from a team that finished 2nd in the SEC and, led by one of the best frontcourts in the conference in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, will likely start in or around the top 25.
Tennessee can take pride in being one of very few schools in the country that can have wild crowds of 100,000 in the fall and packed houses of more than 20,000 in the winter. But more than that, Tennessee can use each sport to help the other. Every time a big game crowds rowdy fans into every corner of Thompson-Boling Arena, football recruits--on one of the last weekends before Signing Day--can feel the atmosphere wash over them and think "and there will be five times this many people cheering me on Saturdays?" And whenever a huge football game pumps the campus energy up to eleven, basketball recruits can be awed by the sheer size and spectacle of a hundred thousand orange-clad fans screaming their support of Tennessee.
Dooley and Martin realized this fairly early in their tenures, and using the the other sport for recruiting weekends has become common practice. It has other benefits--instead of being distracted by coaching a game, one coach can focus on spending time with the prospective players while taking advantage of the energy generated by the other. And the more each program improves, the more the energy level will rise, and the more effective the recruiting pitch becomes.
So come out and support the football team Saturday in one of their biggest games of the year. And, as an appetizer, pop on over to the basketball arena for a sneak preview of one of the best basketball teams in the conference. And a little beating Florida mojo--Martin is 2-0 against the Gators. This weekend is a rare opportunity to show players and recruits from two sports how much the Vols mean to the fans, and hopefully sway a few people in an orange direction. I'll be there. Will you?