NEW ORLEANS (release) -- The Tennessee basketball team spent Thursday prepping for its SEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup against seventh-seeded Ole Miss.
The No. 2 seed Vols will face the Rebels Friday at 7:30 p.m. EST. The game will be televised regionally on the SEC Network (WVLT).
First-year UT head coach Cuonzo Martin – who earlier this week was named SEC co-Coach of the Year by Blue Ribbon – and his team began the day with an hour of court time at New Orleans Arena, this year’s tournament site. The venue serves as home to the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets.
“It’s a nice arena,” UT junior guard Skylar McBee said. “It was good to get some shots up and get a feel for the place. I’m really looking forward to getting out and playing [Friday]. I’ve seen quite a few Tennessee fans walking around downtown, so I think we’ll have a pretty good cheering section down here.”
Following the workout at New Orleans Arena, Tennessee’s players ate a good lunch and enjoyed some down time in the team hotel while the staff spent valuable time doing scout work.
At 3:30 p.m. CT, the Vols boarded their team bus and drove to Holy Cross School in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward for a more intense 75-minute practice.
The current incarnation of Holy Cross School opened on Jan. 14, 2011, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the school’s old Ninth Ward campus.
Following the devastation of the 2005 storm, 163-year-old Holy Cross was without a home. Its students were forced to attend night school at a school 90 miles away in Baton Rouge, at another private school in New Orleans and eventually in trailers on the empty lot where the new school stands today.
Day by day, brick by brick, building by building, Holy Cross rebuilt.
“For the longest time, our students didn’t have dressing rooms, they worked out in the yard, they changed clothes in their cars,” said Shelly Raynal, director of public relations for Holy Cross. “We didn’t have a home to practice. There were a lot of tough situations, but we made it through.”
On Jan. 14, 2011, Holy Cross inaugurated its new state-of-the-art student center with a basketball game against rival Jesuit High School. Holy Cross prevailed 52-48.
“The moment when we opened up this building for our students—them walking in here the first time and seeing this amazing building and not believing it was for them – was when we all had to take a step back,” said Raynal. “There were a handful of people who never gave up on Holy Cross School, and we are so thankful for them.”
For all the hardships they endured, the seven senior basketball players who graduated from Holy Cross last year earned a special nickname from the school’s staff.
“We called them our vagabond seniors,” said Michael C. Bujol, Holy Cross athletics director. “They actually played and practiced in 20 different gymnasiums during their careers here. Sometimes they even practiced in parking lots.”
Thankfully, the school opened its doors to the Vols Thursday afternoon, and another parking lot practice was avoided. While the Tennessee team spent just a little more than an hour in the facility, the pride and hope of the Holy Cross staff was inescapable. The school is a sign of the progress being made to rebuild New Orleans, and while the Vols are focused on winning basketball games, the significance of Holy Cross School is not lost on them.
“It’s just a privilege to be here,” Martin said. “We talked a little bit with our guys about what went on down here (during Hurricane Katrina). It’s a humbling thing to be a part of.”
TATUM RECOGNIZED FOR OUTREACH EFFORTS
Tennessee senior Cameron Tatum was among the 12 men’s basketball student-athletes named to the 2012 SEC Community Service Team this week.
This marks the 14th year for the SEC Community Service Team for men’s basketball, as the league continues its efforts to recognize the accomplishments of student-athletes beyond the field of competition.
Tatum, a fifth-year senior from Lithonia, Ga., has been extremely active in community outreach projects throughout his time as a Vol. In the past year, he has helped to build a new house for a Knoxville family through Habitat for Humanity, and he served as an on-court instructor and public address announcer at the Hoops for Hope event in Farragut, Tenn.
He also handed out shoes through the Shoes for Schools program, volunteered at Vine Magnet School and visited with patients at several hospitals, including UT Medical Center and the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville as well as St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis.