Feb. 25, 2014
BY: ROBBY VERONESI
Brandon Fickey is one of the two homegrown players on the Vol roster. An alum of the Webb School of Knoxville, the junior has been on quite the road to recovery to get back to this point of the 2013-14 season.
After injuring his shoulder and then his back, Fickey has grown into a team leader who knows what it takes to win at the SEC level, even while re-learning almost everything he once knew during recovery.
As the No. 11 Volunteers open the SEC season at Barksdale Stadium Sunday against No. 35 Georgia, Fickey sits down to discuss the expectations of moving outside, Duck Dynasty and how a young man has encouraged an entire group of college students.
Q: So, Sunday's the SEC opener, another SEC outdoor season about to start. What should the fans expect from the team heading into SEC play?
A: Outdoors is a little tricky, especially when you're starting your first match. The outdoors is a lot different than indoors. Things tend to slow down, matches take a little longer. I definitely think that plays into our favor and we thrive in the SEC season. That's what we look forward to and Georgia's our biggest rival in the SEC, so it's going to be one of the toughest matches of year. The fans can expect a lot of fight from us.
Q: What makes outdoor tennis different from indoor tennis?
A: In indoors, everything is fast paced. In outdoors, it slows down. There's a lot of wind, there's the sun, but other factors can mess with you mentally out there. Our team likes that. When it warms up in the heat, matches get a little more physical, so to speak. It's what we train for.
Q: What do you tell the freshmen and underclassmen about what to expect from the SEC season?
A: I think they have a pretty good understanding. I think they realize, even when they're being recruited, that the SEC's probably the toughest conference week-in and week-out in all sports, but especially tennis. The magnitude of it, the fanbases you'll see traveling around, you've got to be mentally sharp. There's no room for slip-up if you want to win the SEC.
Q: For you personally, how does this prep week compare to the last couple seasons?
A: Compared to last year, we've got a new team. You have me, Jarryd (Chaplin), Hunter (Reese) and Mikelis (Libietis) that have been around, but then you have a lot of new faces. We're trying to lead the way and set the tone for them. We've already had a conversation, (but) we've really got to have a good week of practice this week. When we have good practice, we have good matches. When you don't have good practice, you don't have good matches. It's just as simple as that. We just got to take it day by day and enjoy it. It's going to go by so quick is what we've told them as well. You got to take each day and practice hard, but you also got to have fun.
Q: I hate to bring it back up, around this time of the year last year, you were playing some of your best tennis of your time here and then SECs started and the injuries started happening. A year later from that point, how are you doing?
A: I was on fire this time last year heading into the SEC season. I played really well against Georgia last year, (and) was about to win. I started having some shoulder issues back around this time. We tried to play through it and manage it, but it got to the point where there were a few labrum issues and tendons popping out of my place. My history is kind of injury-prevalent. There's a lot of maintenance, a lot of trying to stay healthy and take it match-by-match, doing the rehab. I think coming off my back injury for three or four months off, you kind of have to learn again how to win matches, to play the big points, even though you've been doing it your whole life. It's new every time you come back from an injury. You don't know how it's going to hold up. You're a little tentative of trying to exert yourself all out, but I think I'm on the right track to get back and I'm happy where I'm at going into SEC season.
Q: Going right along with that last part, take me through the first few months of this season. What has it been like getting back into the swing of things?
A: It was tough, especially with your back which is essentially your support system. I never really had too many back issues, but I just went down in practice randomly. (I) couldn't stand up a whole day, essentially in a wheelchair for a day. (It) turns out I had a bulging disk in my spine. I took a series of three different injections over the course of two months to calm it down. Saying that, I'm healthy now. Coming into it, I was a little hesitant, maybe too anxious to play. I was so excited to play that I think it got the best of me my first match or two and I was also a little nervous. I think I'm coming back and performing well, but it does take time and that's the conversation I had with the coaches. It'll come. You can't want it too quickly, you can't expect to play your best tennis right off the bat. It's going to take a little while. I think that's where I'm heading now and I'm starting to play some good tennis.
Q: You arguably have the biggest win of the season so far down in Tulsa (a 4-3 victory where Fickey clinched the game-winning point). I know you've been in plenty of those last court situations, but was there any more added meaning to it?
A: That was incredible. The thing that got me through that was, for one, the team. They had a lot of belief in me in these situations. Secondly, I'd been in those positions prior. My focus when it gets down to that match is a big part of why I have success. I've been having a lot of talks as well trying to figure out how harness that focus I have when my back's against the wall into every single match. When it comes down to it, I know I can do it. That's my big thing going forward is trying to have that focus day in and day out.
Q: Switching tracks, I want to try to get to know you a little bit more off the court. I heard you were a baseball player growing up.
A: That was my main sport growing up. Maybe almost half the UT baseball team (are guys) I grew up playing with. I liked baseball. I couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine that I'd be playing tennis in college. I'd just hit on the neighborhood courts; not so long, you play in a few tournaments here and there. It turns out I was winning a few and I said, `Well, that's pretty nice. You know, I'll continue it.' It got to 12 or 13 (years old) when I realized I kind of needed to make a decision one way or another which sport I wanted to do. I can't say I pinpointed a reason, but I chose tennis and I never looked back. When I can, I definitely like to go out and watch the baseball. It's what I really enjoy.
Q: Even if you can't pinpoint a reason, what was the process like of trying to make a decision between tennis and baseball?
A: It was tough. Tennis is a pretty individualized sport and you're traveling by yourself whereas in baseball, you're traveling with your friends. I would say a lot of it had to do with the individual aspect of it. I liked (that) if I'd lose, it was on me. I didn't like having to lose for someone else not trying hard enough. If I could, I would go back and play some more baseball. I wish I could.
Q: I know you're not one to necessarily publicly show your musical talent to everyone. How long as music been a part of your life?
A: It started, I would say, when I turned 7. My grandma actually bought me my first drum set. My grandma is very into music. (She) played the organ for the church, played the trumpet, did everything. She bought my first drum set, a little one, and from then on, I just kept lessons playing the drums and I still do these days. I'm pretty modest about it. I don't like to play in front of a lot of people. With a couple of the guys, I can maybe every now and then when they look away, I'll do something at my house. Drums is really what I like and I've played the trumpet for four years.
Q: Who are some of your inspirations or favorites?
A: I really like playing along to Bon Jovi. I like the rock. Music-wise, country music is my favorite. That's a big issue with the team: they like their techno. It's a kind of music I can't really get into. I can't really get my two cents; I get shut down pretty easily. I've got some more firepower now with Andrew Dromsky and he likes country.
(Mikelis comes in and compliments Brandon's haircut....also, Happy Birthday, Joanna Henderson!)
Q: On my Facebook news feed over the weekend, I noticed a photo of you guys at the Breedlove household. Who are they and why were you all over there?
A: Ryan (Breedlove) is a 7 or 8-year-old kid and he has retinoblastoma. It's a form of eye cancer. We were approached by the Student Life Development Coordinator about possibly bringing this kid onto the team as a team member. We jumped into it and didn't look back. The Breedloves are a great family. They come to all of our matches. They even came to our run last Saturday on the track. We try to go to their house a couple of times a semester and have dinner with them, talk and be there for Ryan and his family. It's a cool experience for them and it's even more eye-opening for us to see how grateful they are for what they have and to be able to share the memories that we go through with them.
Q: Is he a big tennis guy?
A: I really don't think they were into tennis that much, to be honest, when we first met them. Now, Ryan's older brother, Will, is playing tennis. I think they really enjoy it now.
Q: Being around you guys for a few years now, (I've noticed that) you guys are such a tight-knit group. What do you guys tend to do off the court?
A: We're together so much. Sometimes you want some down time with yourself or one or two guys, but a lot of times on the road or in the season, we just try to catch a movie. Duck Dynasty is a big thing in my room with Jarryd and Mikelis. There's just little shows like that you get into. To be honest, though, there's not much time to just go out and do things--relax, go out and watch a movie, go to dinner or something.
Q: How big of a deal is Duck Dynasty to you guys?
A: It stemmed from last year with Taylor Patrick on the team. We really got into it then. We find it hilarious in my apartment. I know some of the other guys have gotten into Dexter, Spartacus, little things like that just to relax and hang out with each other.
Q: Speaking of Jarryd, Ace or Fault will be coming back later on potentially. Of course, you guys are the reigning champs and record holders. How has your relationship with Jarryd grown since then (because that also translates onto the doubles court)?
A: I don't know where to start with us off the court. We are goons. We don't take anything serious, always the ones cracking jokes. This is going on my second year living with him, but we just clicked. Our personalities clicked. We don't like to take life too seriously off the court and spend so much time drilling and being serious on the court. If (there's) anything we can do off the court to make the guys laugh and forget about tennis for a little bit, that's what we want to do.
Q: How do you guys continue to build on the success (in Ace or Fault) from last season? What do you guys need to do in order to break your own record?
A: I guess just ask each other more questions. I don't know if there is much we don't know about each other. To win it again, we don't need to be serious. If we're trying to be serious and try to really think about the questions, then we'll probably get them wrong because the answer we're probably thinking about is probably the wrong one. It's probably going to be some far-fetched, random answer that we know is a joke, but that's our relationship. We know when to be serious, but 90 percent of the time, it's just going to be laughing all the time.