C.J. Watson carried the torch for Tennessee Basketball by himself for a long time. In eight years in the NBA, Watson made the playoffs four consecutive seasons from 2011-14. He had a significant opportunity when Derrick Rose got hurt against the Sixers in 2012, getting five starts. It was the first time a former Vol had started a playoff game since Allan Houston, who made six consecutive trips to the postseason and one Finals appearance from 1996-2001.
Houston is long since retired and Watson is laboring away in Orlando, far from postseason contention. But the fruit of Tennessee's basketball success in the last decade is about to manifest itself in the playoffs.
Tobias Harris will make his first playoff appearance in his fifth year in the league, traded to Detroit mid-season and averaging 16.6 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Pistons. I don't know how long they'll stay, as the eighth-seed Pistons will face LeBron James and Cleveland in round one. I don't know how much he'll play, but Jordan McRae is on Cleveland's roster. He's averaged 4.7 minutes per game since coming over in a trade from Phoenix, but did drop 36 points in his first NBA start in the meaningless final game of the regular season Wednesday night. His contribution may be minimal, but he may also have a chance to get a ring.
And of course, the biggest story among Tennessee players this year has been Josh Richardson. Since getting the green light after the All-Star break, the Heat rookie has averaged 10.6 points in 29.1 minutes for the East's three seed, and shot an unbelievable 55.8% from the three point line. He's also been straight up dunking on people.
All three of these guys have a long way to go in their careers. But with three players in the postseason and two of them in critical roles, it's a significant accomplishment for them and for Tennessee Basketball. We'll have to wait and see if Rick Barnes can continue to send players to the next level, and none of them have reached the level Houston was able to attain just yet. But for quantity in the postseason, this may be as good as it's ever been for the Vols. And as the spotlight now gets even bigger on them, it's a great opportunity for Tobias and J-Rich to make an even bigger name for themselves.