Jan. 13, 2012
BY JOSH PATE
Taber Spani's orange and white Tennessee basketball jersey bears No. 13 on the front and back, but the Lady Vols junior guard doesn't see it like everyone else does. To her, it's a 1 and 3.
While 13 may have connotations of being unlucky, Spani views it as just the opposite.
"My priorities are that the Lord is No. 1 in my life. So I think it's neat how with 13, you put God first, and then others second, and yourself third," Spani said. "So that's one and three, and I went with 13."
Spani's creativity in selecting her basketball number also has family ties. Her father, Gary, wore No. 33 when he played high school basketball, and her sisters have worn some form of 3 during their years on the hardwood, whether it's 3, 13 or 23.
So when Spani came from Lee's Summit, Mo., to become a Lady Volunteer basketball player, she preferred her old high school numeral, No. 3.
"I wanted to keep the 3," Spani said. "Obviously, Candace Parker wore 3 here so that's going to be retired and some of the other 3 numbers weren't available, so 13 seemed like a great fit."
Not all wearers of 13, however, have a specific reason for selecting their identification digit.
"When I came in," said Tennessee men's basketball player Skylar McBee, "there were like five or six numbers I could choose from and 13 was the number I chose because I didn't like any of the other numbers and I didn't really remember anybody from UT being the number 13 as far as people I remember. I had always been, especially in high school, a single-digit number or in the teens so I wanted to stick with that."
McBee is averaging 6.3 points per game for the Vols, doubling his scoring average from the previous two seasons. And he's firing at a career-best 43.7 percent from 3-point range this year.
Spani headed into Friday the 13th averaging 11.9 points per game, the highest output of her career and good enough to rank third on the Lady Vols team.
"I don't believe in luck," Spani said. "I believe everything happens for a reason and purpose. With me wearing 13, I can share that with people and it will maybe open some eyes to where they see it's not really unlucky. It's actually great, and to me it's a special number."
For McBee, it's just a patch on the uniform.
"I know a lot of athletes are superstitious, but I never have been at all in anything that I've played," the Rutledge native said. "I've never been a superstitious person."
McBee and Spani aren't the only Tennessee student-athletes to have worn No. 13 in a team sport. Four other Lady Vols basketball players have worn No. 13, most notably Gwen Jackson from 1999-2003 when she averaged 11 points per game. Interestingly, the number sat idle between 1980 and 1995. Four other players for the men's team have worn No. 13, all between 1947 and 1955 until recent years. Tommy Bartlett's 10.9 points per game set the tone for that group.
Stories abound of professional sports team players exchanging jersey numbers for payment or college student-athletes willingly giving up a number if another player wants it.
Even this season, the Tennessee men's basketball team had two players switch uniform numerals. Senior Renaldo Woolridge increased from No. 0, which his legendary father once wore, to No. 3, his old high school number. And sophomore guard Jordan McRae swapped from the single digit No. 1 last season to No. 52, a rare but not exclusive double-digit jersey worn by a guard.
For others, however, the sewn-on piece of identification has no bearing on their success or lack thereof.
McBee acknowledged that some players take their number seriously. He's not one of them.
"The number on my jersey has never really mattered," he said. "I know guys who are like that, both guys in high school and guys I play with now who have a certain number they like or always want to be that number. But that's just not my thing. I don't really care what my jersey number is. I'll play with a blank jersey if I need to."
Yet for Spani, the 13 has a meaning beyond basketball.
"My mom always says, `You make the number; the number doesn't make you,'" Spani said. "I just go forward with that attitude. Your number is unique and special because that's what you're known by. It's how people recognize you in a certain sense. So if you have a story behind it, to me that makes it all the more special."