The Tennessee basketball team held the first of 10 NCAA-allotted team practices Monday in Pratt Pavilion in preparation for its upcoming exhibition tour of Italy Aug. 5-15.
All but one member of the 15-man squad is on back on campus and was present for Monday’s two-hour practice. Freshman forward Derek Reese was traveling back to Knoxville after earning All-Tournament Team honors at last weekend’s Nike Global Challenge.
Senior forward Jeronne Maymon (knee) took part in the majority of practice, while fellow senior forward Dwight Miller (knee) was limited to conditioning work and did not take part in live drills.
Junior point guard Trae Golden was back in full swing following an off-season knee surgery, and UT’s two backcourt newcomers – junior guard D’Montre Edwards and freshman guard Armani Moore – participated in their first official team practice as Volunteers.
“It was the first day, so we had some guys working the kinks out,” second-year UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We introduced a few concepts for the new guys.”
Martin said the new NCAA rules allowing additional instruction time for coaches and players in the summer has helped.
“You can tell from a skills standpoint,” Martin said. “And the guys are better conditioned for practice. Plus, we have an experienced team, so that helps the flow throughout practice. But there’s still plenty of work to do.”
In addition to time spent working on fundamentals, Monday’s practice itinerary also included sessions dedicated to transition offense and defense, motion cuts and curling action as well as ball-screen defense.
Nine more team practice sessions await over the coming two and a half weeks.
“Having 10 extra practices really helps,” Martin said. “Especially when they’re efficient. Ten practices gives you an opportunity to accomplish a lot. For (the coaching staff), you always want to get better as a team. You want to get the new guys acclimated to what we do. And you want to reinforce your philosophies on both ends of the floor and continue to teach a level of effort, togetherness and toughness.”
The team will bus from Knoxville to Atlanta on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 5. The Vols then fly from Atlanta to Rome later that afternoon, arriving the morning of Monday, Aug. 6.
In addition to Rome, the Vols also will visit The Vatican City, Florence, Pisa, Como, Milan and The Republic of San Marino.
Tennessee will play four exhibition games at various stops throughout the tour against All-Star Italy (Aug. 8 in Rome), Montenegro Selezione (Aug. 10 in Florence), Atletas Kaunas (Aug. 12 in San Marino) and Amici del Campetto (Aug. 14 in Como).
For 12 members of the team, the trip marks their first time visiting Europe. Sophomore guard Josh Richardson took part in a basketball exhibition of Poland and Germany in June, and junior guards Trae Golden and Jordan McRae were teammates on the 2K Sports Preseason All-America Team that competed at the 2009 World Basketball Tournament in France.
EMPHASIS OF THE DAY
Prior to each Tennessee practice, the team huddles briefly after stretching and spends a few minutes discussing the “Emphasis of the Day,” which is typed at the top of that’s days practice report. Head coach Cuonzo Martin personally selects a different idea, quote or subject for discussion each day.
Monday’s Emphasis of the Day focused on reliability: “When we are reliable, others know that they can depend on us. They know that we will make the effort to do our best, whatever the situation might be. They know we won’t run, cower or become paralyzed by fear.”
The Emphasis of the Day rarely focuses on basketball-specific skills or strategy, as Martin typically uses it as a vehicle for character building and personal development. As such, it has become something that the members of the team look forward to each day.
VOLS TO EARN COURSE CREDIT WHILE LOGGING MILES
Once the Vols arrive in Italy on Aug. 5, they will already have a solid understanding of the nation’s history and culture. University of Tennessee associate professor for history Dr. Robert Bast is the reason why.
On July 11, Bast conducted the first of a series of 90-minute lectures about Italy for the UT basketball team. Bast will accompany the team on its trip, conducting additional lectures and taking advantage of educational opportunities that arise throughout the 10-day tour. His knowledge and insight will be invaluable when the team visits sites such as the Colosseum, the Accademia Gallery (which houses Michelangelo’s famous marble statue of David) and St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican City.
“The course I've created for the team is called “Renaissance Men”, and that’s for two reasons,” Bast said. “First, they’re studying some of the central events of the Italian Renaissance as a prelude to their experience in Italy. Second, I've encouraged them to use this opportunity to grow toward the ideal of the Renaissance Man.
“In the words of Pier Paolo Vergerio, that means pursuing an education ‘that calls forth, trains and develops the highest gifts of body and mind.’
“So far they've been very enthusiastic.”
Tennessee’s players have enjoyed learning about the sites they’ll be visiting in a few weeks – the actual trip itself serving as an “experiential lab,” of sorts.
“It’s fun to learn about a new country we’ve never been to,” said sophomore guard Josh Richardson. “I think it’s good that we’re getting educated on somewhere we’re about to go. It will be cool to actually go into the buildings we’ve been learning about in this class.”
Tennessee basketball student-athlete welfare coordinator Marco Harris is a big proponent for using the trip as an educational opportunity and has worked closely with Bast throughout the process.
“Because of the resources we have available to us here at Tennessee, our players have access to some incredible opportunities to go places and experience things that many people may never have a chance to do in their lifetime,” Harris said. “So I think by incorporating the opportunity to learn about the country, its political history, its culture in advance, it’s going to make the trip that much more memorable when they look back on it.
“When they actually walk into the Roman Colosseum, they’ll have a much better understanding of what the Colosseum truly was. It’s not just a big structure that looks old. There were a lot of things that took place there that are relevant to the history of Rome.”
Each member of the team will earn three credit hours at the conclusion of the trip as part of UT’s History 491 course (Foreign Study).
HALL APPRECIATIVE OF HIS OPPORTUNITIES
Since senior forward Kenny Hall arrived on The Hill as a freshman, he’s been somewhat of a globe trotter. Now entering his fourth and final season at UT, Hall is about to check a few more destinations off his list.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, New York, Los Angeles and Maui are just a few of the trips made in his first three years. But in the coming months, Hall will make his first trip to Europe – touring throughout Italy with his Vol family – and a trip to Puerto Rico is on the horizon in November, too.
The chance to travel the world isn’t lost on the 6-foot-10-inch Stone Mountain, Ga., native.
“We’re in a privileged part of our lives right now as student-athletes,” Hall said. “A lot of us didn’t have a chance to go to some of these places growing up. It’s more than a blessing to be able to travel and do it while playing basketball – the thing we love.
“We are so fortunate to receive a free education – that is blessing enough. It’s just icing on the cake to be able to have these opportunities to travel to places we’ve never been, on top of that.”
For Hall, one of the most exciting parts of traveling with Tennessee basketball is the chance to learn about new cultures.
“I like to see how other people live in different environments,” said Hall. “In Italy, I’m going to be exposed to a whole different world that I’m not used to, and I’m really looking forward to that.”