Mark Pancratz: Virgin Islands Diary

Nov. 18, 2009

BY Mark Pancratz

ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands -- Hey Vol Nation, my name is Mark Pancratz and I am a member of our basketball staff as the Assistant to the Head Coach. I've been given the great privilege of giving you an inside look at our team's weeklong trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam through a daily blog.

What an unbelievable 24 hours! After a great TEAM defensive effort against UNC Asheville, which helped coach Pearl capture his 100th win at the University of Tennessee (bringing him only 934 away from coach Summitt--haha) our team loaded the bus to Atlanta for a Wednesday-morning flight to the Virgin Islands. Although we didn't get to the hotel until around 3 a.m., the drive south to HotLanta was painless due to all the Chick-fil-A sandwiches, brownies and cookies we had on board. Tennessee dominated the Sportscenter highlights on the on-board satellite TVs, and there were considerably lower decibel levels of noise coming from the right side of the bus. The lack of noise on the bus was due to the absence of assistant coach Steve Forbes. He snores like crazy, but he wasn't with us because he was on the road for recruiting.

With guys hitting the bed at about 3:30 a.m., the 7:15 wake-up call to head to the airport came especially early! Even more so for the freshmen, who are used to sleeping on their dorm room beds and us staff members, who have become pretty accustomed to the locker room couches this time of year. Once we arrived at the airport, the players scattered to get breakfast. Luckily, no one was injured by the "taxi cabs" escorting the elderly people around the airport. All the people dodging those dangerous carts reminded me of when Skylar McBee body-slammed that UNC Asheville center Tuesday night after a rebound!

I walked with coach Pearl to the gate, and I'm always amazed at how many random "Go Vols!" or "Hey coach Pearl!" yells that get tossed in his direction. Vol Nation is definitely everywhere and there is not a better coach in the country at acknowledging these supporters and treating them as part of our Tennessee Basketball Family.

When we got to the gate, the University of Northern Iowa basketball team was also waiting to board the same plane. Coach Pearl went over to talk to their coaching staff and I swear I saw Brian Williams go over and sit with Northern Iowa's 6-10 center in hopes of getting some comfort. He just wanted to be in the company of another soon-to-be-miserable large individual about to endure a 3-hour and 20 minute plane ride.

Once we got on the plane and back to our seats, Tyler, who I was sitting next to, was fast asleep. To be honest, I don't know if he was more tired from his great energy in Tuesday night's win or from the fact he had to walk all the way back to the 45th row of the plane for his seat. It is one thing to throw an Assistant to the Head Coach way back there, but an All-American? A two-time All SEC performer? The only guy in school history to record a triple-double? I think not!

View from team hotel.

As we touched down in what the guys like to call "The V.I.," the scenery was incredible! However, that scenery was completely overshadowed by the shaky landing we encountered. I swear it I haven't felt something shake like that since Thompson-Boling Arena erupted after Chris Lofton's shot over Kevin Durant to beat Texas a few years ago!

Once we stepped foot off the airplane into the beautiful warm weather and the sounds of the local Reggatone music, everyone's spirits elevated to extreme joy and curiosity to what our week on this island has in store. After we gathered our bags, we headed to our hotel on the local's version of taxis. These things are open-air 25-passenger vehicles that look like something straight out of the movie "Blue Chips."

The hotel in which we are staying, the Marriott Frechman's Reef, is right on the water and is gorgeous! (sorry if I sound redundant with my adjectives describing this trip thus far, but it's the truth! Besides, I'm a staff member, so depending on how Thursday's practice goes, I may be in a completely different mood afterward... haha!) The players and staff literally had no time to enjoy the sights and sounds, though, as they dropped their bags off in their rooms, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to the gym for practice.

We normally wouldn't have done much in practice a day after a game followed by a rigorous travel schedule, but coach Pearl thought that since this would be the only opportunity we had to get in the gym we actually play in before tip-off Friday night, we needed to go practice and get a feel for the venue. Therefore, we had a brief practice that included our guys getting a lot of shots so they could get accustomed to the rims and the gym's surroundings. They also did a little defensive work and began focusing on the game plan for East Carolina.

Once practice ended, coach Shay and Tyler had themselves a brief game of 1-on-1. And when I say brief, I mean BRIEF! After coach Shay's opening offensive possession that resulted in a missed jumper, it was Tyler's ball. Well, sorry Shay, but I have to tell the world that Tyler didn't even get a shot off because he was rolling around on the floor laughing so hard after he completely juked coach Shay out of his shoes! The solid workout followed by this hilarious encounter had the guys in a great mood as we once again loaded back onto the open air taxis and headed back to the hotel for a night of relaxation after a great day of traveling with our Tennessee Basketball Family!

Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to our Associate Head Coach, Tony Jones, as November 18th is his birthday! Happy birthday T-Jones... Detroit's Finest!!!

Thanks for reading, and please check back to tomorrow for another blog update.





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