In years past under head coach Rick Barnes, the Tennessee Volunteers men’s basketball team has generally been a somewhat quiet, mild mannered team that shows up to play, leaves it all out on the court, and displays an even amount of emotion whether it be a win against a non-conference opponent or a fierce battle with rival Kentucky. To put a football spin on it, the Vols have always been the type of team to run that 60 yard touchdown, jog over to the ref, toss him the ball, and head over to the sideline. As they have grown, the men on the court have seemed to mold in to an even temper similar to their head coach.
This year though, the Vols seem to have added a little “spice” to their persona on the court. The usually docile leaders of the squad, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield have been the face of this transformation to a sassy, outspoken team that is “here and for real,” and wants you to know it.
“We still have some class, but at the same time, when we are disrespected, why show respect back,” was Schofield’s response when asked about the “gator chomp” troll celebration he and a few Vols showed off to the disappointed Florida crowd after a hard fought 78-67 victory. It was a tight game that never saw either team hold a lead of more than seven points until the Vols pulled away with under a minute left in the game.
This was not the first time the Vols have burst out into jubilant celebration after an emotional win. Back in early December, after a huge 76-73 upset over the then #1 Gonzaga, Williams and Schofield were among the Vols players who went into a predominantly Gonzaga-filled crowd to celebrate with their families and the Tennessee fans.
The truth is, the fire and passion that this Tennessee team plays with, and celebrates with, is that of a team with Final Four expectations. They have always had the skill, now they are letting the world know that they have the swagger. I believe it’s that type of “we deserve to be here” attitude that can propel them to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in April with a chance to show off their best celebration yet as we hope to see them cut down the nylon.
There’s a lot of basketball to be played before fans can start to get excited about that possibility and the Vols have to keep pressing hard while not letting their heads get to them as they continue to show off their talent. But in the meantime, this passion and hard work that they leave out on the court each game should be a treat for both Tennessee and college basketball fans everywhere to watch. This is not the same team we saw last year. This is a team that is described perfectly in 3 words: Humble, but Hungry.