Nov. 20, 2009
Mark Pancratz, Tennessee basketball's assistant to the head coach, is writing a daily blog for UTsports.com to keep Vols fans updated on the team's activities in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament.
How can anybody even want to sleep when they're at this place?! After a great and much-needed night's rest, it was back at it at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. Me and other members of our staff were in the workout room by 7 a.m. to get our daily workouts in before our first staff meeting began at 8:30 a.m.
Although the first meeting wasn't until 8:30, Coach Pearl called me before 8 a.m. to let me know he was coming down to our Team Room to watch film to get a better grasp on East Carolina. As I sat in the room watching and listening to his dialogue with a couple of our assistants it was apparent that East Carolina is a very good ball club with SEC-level talent on their roster. In particular, their point guard, Brock Young. This guy is a one-man press-breaker that seems to always be in attack mode. Our staff will definitely have to try and develop a game plan to keep him from not only attacking the basket to create scoring opportunities for himself, but also from getting to the middle of the floor to facilitate offense for his teammates.
At 9:15 a.m. our players were woken up by the hotel wake-up calls, as well as fists pounding on their doors and our managers yelling, "Let's go, breakfast time!" over and over and over again. I know many of you are probably thinking our biggest guys Brian or Wayne would be the first ones up and excited to go eat, but actually it's usually walk-on Quinn Cannington. Man, that kid is probably the skinniest kid on our team but that boy can eat! He's almost always first to team meals, he always is eating the snacks we have around, and he's always asking people "Are you gonna eat that?" or "Can I have some of that?" It's amazing, and I'm jealous I can't eat like that!
After breakfast the guys came straight down to the Team Room for a film session with Coach. Although the coaching staff had watched all of ECU's games from this season and eight of their games from last year in preparation, this was the team's first look at the Pirates. We went over everything we had on them--their transition sets, half-court sets, press offense, multiple defenses, under-out-of-bounds plays, side-out of-bounds and personnel tendencies on each player. What's great about a veteran ball club, and exciting about this team, is that they ask questions in film. For example, Brian Williams had a question about defending one of their ballscreen looks that he asked Coach Pearl about. That is a great sign for this ball club. They are eager to get better by doing things the right way. However, having played for Coach Pearl at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and now having worked with him for four years, I truly believe one of the things that makes Coach great is his willingness to listen and take input from his players. In this particular example, Brain actually made some very substantial points. One of these points Coach Pearl agreed with and altered our scouting reports to mirror Brian's suggestion. Coach has taught me that by taking in the guys' input it not only shows their opinion matters, it shows you trust them and it puts ownership on the players to get the tasks done.
Straight from film our team loaded onto the open-air buses and headed to practice at Antilles High School. The guys seemed pretty enthused to get out of the hotel once again to head to the gym. Usually, when I enter a vehicle one of the first things I do is turn on some music. However, with these guys, I could hear enough music blaring out of their headphones to satisfy me. It's common for all our guys to be jammin' to their favorite new rap song as they get mentally prepared before games or even practice. From the sound of this bus ride it seems that all of our guys are listening to songs off of the new Lil Wayne album "No Ceilings." Well, actually, I shouldn't say ALL our guys are listening to their favorite rap artist. I swear I heard freshman Skylar McBee last week getting mentally prepared by listening to Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy."
At practice, Coach's main focus was to get our players physically prepared to defend East Carolina. As Coach Pearl went over a couple new offensive plays and under-out-of-bounds plays to go against East Carolina's tricky defense, the scout team learned ECU's plays, under OBs and pressure sets (Coach Pearl is very particular about having the scout team learn the timing and spacing of the under OBs and pressure sets). After the coaches got both of their respective teams ready, the guys in the regular rotation competed against ECU (our scout team) in full-court drills and scrimmaging. Our scout team, particularly Mike Hubert, Quinn Cannington and Steven Pearl, did an excellent job simulating ECU. What they were able to duplicate will definitely help our guys be more prepared tomorrow at tipoff.
After practice, our guys were given some per diem to get lunch and explore the downtown area. Led by seniors Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze, and J.P. Prince, a majority of the team hopped on the water taxi to the downtown area to take in the sights and sounds of St. Thomas. I say that, but then I come to find out that some of the guys went to Wendy's while our managerial staff got lunch at the local Hooters. Meanwhile, other guys like Tyler Smith (who said this trip is strictly business) Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Renaldo Woolridge, stayed back at the hotel to stay on top of their class work and play Playstation 3.
Before free time concluded and we needed to meet for the Paradise Jam Dinner Reception, the coaching staff gathered in Coach Pearl's room to watch Tobias Harris' press conference in which he announced which school he would be attending. By now, all of you know that Tobias became the newest member of our Tennessee Basketball Family. However, I swear even if you didn't see it live on TV you had to have known he committed to us because I am positive everyone back in Knoxville heard Coach Pearl scream with excitement! As a staff and program we are elated to be welcoming another high-character kid with unbelievable talent to an already great recruiting class of Jordan McRae and Trae Golden. As Coach always says (and now screams), it's GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL!
For dinner, the tournament directors put on a great reception at Paradise Point atop Flag Hill for all the teams. Our entire travel party took the buses to the base of Flag Hill. Then these eight-person gondola lifts took everyone to a restaurant that sat on top of the "mountain." Right when we got there, we were welcomed to a bird show that at first sounded kind of sketchy but turned out to be awesome! This bird lady had all sorts of birds doing crazy tricks in front of our entire team. I kid you not when I say there were birds riding mini bicycles, gathering rings, and shooting baskets! The guys absolutely loved it! Matter of fact, I know Renaldo Woolridge liked it because I think he "tweeted' about it eight times! After the bird show, the guys sat and ate outside on a patio looking over the entire view of St. Thomas. I swear I've been living in a postcard fantasy world the last two days!
Once everyone was done eating we headed down the mountain and back to our hotel rooms. Since it's the night before a game, the guys were told to get off their feet and watch the NBA or NFL games on TV in their own rooms. Meanwhile the coaching staff went down to the team room or their own rooms to watch tape and prepare for not only tomorrow's game, but for all of our potential opponents in this tournament.