“I’m not sick, but I’m not well.
And I’m so hot, cause I’m in hell.”
Harvey Danger - “Flagpole Sitta”
I was dribbling a basketball outside yesterday. The seams were rough from bouncing on concrete and an invisible grime covered the ball. When I shot it looked good at first but the rotation was slightly off, the arc heavy and uneven, as if the ball was not a perfect orb. I kept clanging bricks and I stared at the ball, blaming it for my failures.
At the goal next to me a group of high school kids were playing 3 on 3. It was 1pm on a school day but here they were. Maybe it was some kind of grubby teenager holiday.
The sun was bright but ineffectual, the air frigid and clear. I smelled burning oil and wet wool.
The kids were not good, not at all. They were dressed in sweatshirts and long sleeve shirts and too big jeans and watchcaps. Their shoes were those heavy skater sneakers where the laces don’t tie. Everyone looked heavy and slow and clumsy. A little guy kept jacking from deep despite the breeze and airballed two. His friends didn’t seem to care. They seemed to be having fun.
I wasn’t that way when I was a kid. I felt the need to win every pick up game and so did my friends. That was how we were taught and how we felt. The journey wasn’t important, just the destination. We got in fights quite a bit and guys that jacked weak jumpers weren’t invited the next time.
To me that has always been a beauty in sport, that winners and losers are easy to distinguish. You win or you lose, just look at the scoreboard if you are confused.
As I have gotten older I have softened on this, but not much. Sports are a live drama. Winning and losing are the ending of the movie, but you have to watch and savor the whole thing to understand the plot and the character arcs. Whether you win or lose is crucial only in that it effects how you look back on the story, see what you’ve learned, how you got to where you are today.
We are running late for the game. A wreck northbound on the Arkansas River bridge brought us to a standstill. I feel good about the game, comfortable and serene. That’s probably not game.
We sit down just before tipoff. Henry is in the lineup and this is good. Bruce Pearl is going with a mock turtleneck and sportscoat, like it is a theme day during a high school “spirit week” and he is dressed up as a ‘70’s gigolo. Richard Gere would be proud. His out of season tan is nearly spectacular.
I like Bruce Pearl and I have loved his teams, the way they get after it and go for the jugular. But I don’t like this team. They look like they have 5 forwards that all think they can shoot but can’t. Their defense is soft and weak. I think there might be something in the water in Knoxville that turns great looking basketball players into enigmas. Their teams always seen to be good only in theory. Maybe its the uniforms.
Texas, as much as I dislike them, has a cool shade of orange. It is burnt and smokey and masculine. Tennessee looks like pale sherbert. You could put their colors on a sun dress for an Easter outing. This bugs me.
Let’s play ball.
My date looks great. She has kind of a school teacher/dominatrix thing going on. I tell her this but she doesn’t seem to think it is the compliment I do.
Man we look slow early. Fortunately Tennessee looks perfectly happy to throw the ball around the 3 point line against our weak zone then jack up a set shot every once in a while. Where is their point guard? They are in desperate need.
My date is troubled by the fact that some UT players have orange shoes and some have white. “That’s silly”, she says. She likes Tyler Smith’s socks though. They are a “pretty color”.
Stef has a steal and a couple turnovers. Rotnei misses. Henry misses and fouls and is replaced. We still haven’t scored but Tennessee has only made a bucket and some FTs.
We are down 8-1 before Stef decides to take a couple easy dribbles against his bigger defender and pull up for a nice J.
FIRST TIMEOUT 3-8 Tennessee
Sweet tempo change. Courtney drives. Henry scores. Stef buries a 3. Crowd comes alive. Now that doesn’t seem so hard.
RC is off. He misses again but he seems to lack a spark. He hasn’t taken it to the hole like he did in the second half against LSU. He is busting it around screens and his teammates are looking for him but it just doesn’t seem to be there. I would argue that playing a soft zone on defense has this effect on a team. It saps them of energy. They become passive on both ends.
We now have ushers in there sweater vests go to each corner of the floor during timeouts - protecting the floor I guess. I feel safer already.
Courtney looks to get fouled on every drive. he needs to use his hops and his strength to go through people because he isn’t going to get calls doing that dipsy-doo stuff.
Henry scores and Tenn has to call timeout. Jay Bilas would say that Henry is “long”.
SECOND TIMEOUT 12-8 Hogs
Sanchez does a spin move for absolutely no apparent reason but makes a nice fade. He looks skinny, like the season is wearing on him. He moves better at this weight though.
Tenn hasn’t score in like 5 minutes but they seem perfectly happy to keep having big men shoot bad 3s. How did UT get like this? They haven’t pressed yet - not even token pressure.
I point out to my date that Prince is wearing black stockings.
“Tights, honey. We call them tights.”, she says and pats me on the knee. I’m always learning.
Stef actually makes a layup. He is playing very, very well.
Smith gets off the schneid.
THIRD TIMEOUT 17-13 Hogs
I understand the zone defense idea and I’m sure it is the right move but I HATE it. We are just waiting for D-1 scholarship athletes to find their range. This idea that we let other teams beat themselves IN OUR HOUSE instead of attacking, attacking, attacking drives me nuts. We stagnate in half-court and look really good in transition. They don’t have a guard. We are at HOME! Let’s push it. (I understand that this runs the risk of getting THEIR team and athletes comfortable in a transition game but so what. If we are going to get beat let’s get beat hard.)
Did I mention that Tenn started 3 guys with headbands and sometimes has a 4th on the court. We started 3 as well. This is a problem. It needs to be addressed on a congressional level.
Chism’s headband is silly. He has it way up on the crown of his head. It looks like a yarmulke with a sunroof.
Tyler Smith puts his bright orange mouthpiece in his headband during timeouts then puts it back in. Uhhhhh - Yuck.
We are bricking FTs, even Sanchez who is reliable. RC misses again but they are good shots. Just keep firing.
Maze is in for Tenn. I think he is supposed to be their PG. Bang he makes 2 in a row. Maybe he doesn’t play because he shoots too much for a point.
WOW Hopson with a semi-360 cram. Seems a little early for showboating but if I could do that you couldn’t get me to stop. I’d do it all day, just like when I first discovered . . . well that’s another story for another time.
Henry hits a 3. He is sooo good. he gets his hands on everything.
And now Stef hits. This is a game of kinda weak runs. Maze comes back with a 3. He has by far the best looking shot from the creamsicle squad.
Stef again to answer another UT 3.
LAST TIMEOUT 30-26 Hogs
Stef is carrying us and Maze is keeping them in it.
Stef with a pretty look away to Henry for a cram. Offensively Stef is more in control than he has been.
“Boy, Tennessee has some cute little coaches over there, don’t they” my date says. I was just about to mention that.
There is a big white goofus in the game for Tennessee. His last name is Pearl. Hmmmmm. If he IS the coaches son then his dad is hogging the tanning bed.
Mike W makes a nice little pro-fade before half.
HALFTIME 35-33 Hogs
What a weird half. We played soft and weak for at least 10 minutes of it but had brief flashes of dominance. Tennessee is a shell of the last couple of years. Neither team wants to press. Rotnei can’t hit to save his life. Just weird. We learned nothing other than the fact that Henry has to play 25-30 minutes a game.
The halftime entertainment is a male female duo that are billed as “Quick Change” artists. This is a lie. He is a magician right down to the gloves and the tuxedo. I think he is just trying to fool me because he knows that magicians, mimes, and clowns join mascots in my pantheon of creepy things. I feel like all of those career choices were made under the influence of prescription narcotics just after a bad breakup and around the time of a recovered memory featuring a drunken uncle sneaking into their room when they were 7.
I tell this to my date and she is speechless due to my wisdom.
“They were on ‘America’s Got Talent’”, my date says. “They were GREAT!” She is giddy. Giddy I tell you.
I want to tease her for watching “America’s Got Talent” but I’m pretty sure I saw that episode too.
The magician’s assistant is looks to be an eastern european immigrant in her early to mid fifties. My backstory for her is that she advertised online for a husband so she could move to America and this guy told her he was a “Quick Change Artist”. It wasn’t until she arrived here penniless and alone that she found out he was a MAGICIAN and she has been his prisoner ever since, secretly passing notes to mascots at every arena they visit in hopes they will rescue her.
This story gets my date asking what I’m drinking.
The Artists are dancing which is a mistake. I am claiming that I can see her layers of clothing - as I am a man of science and cannot be trifled with. I really can’t.
The change of clothes is actually kinda weird and remarkable. At the end she changes while stepping through not much more than a hula hoop. It seems like, like . . . uhhhhhh MAGIC!
My jaw is on the floor and my date is cackling. Actually cackling. She’s lucky I’m into the dominatrix thing. I tell her our “safe word” should me “MAGIC”.
She says that there will be no “safe words”. CHECK PLEASE!
My date went to get some burgers and I am inordinately excited about this. She seems less so.
We start the 2nd half just like the first. Soft, stagnant defense saved only by crummy Tenn shooting. We haven’t scored in 4 minutes and are suddenly down 7. How did that happen?
“That Williams guy on Tennessee looks like Sinbad” my date says. “I loved him in that movie where he was a cowboy.”
I am excited by a Sinbad reference. I tell her that he was on the first season of “Star Search” along with other luminaries like “Sawyer Brown”.
“Man I loved me some ‘Sawyer Brown’”, she says. Well who didn’t.
Stef with a drive and some tosses then a steal and a feed to Henry. Let’s go Stef.
Pel was just chewing out RC, I’m not sure for what. First time I’ve seen that.
FIRST TIMEOUT 41-42 Tennessee
UT seems to have figured out they can get inside the zone with a few simple passes. And if they get it up on the rim they can crash the boards instead of letting us get the long rebounds off missed 3s.
This zone has been successful at times this year but it is a fundamentally poor defense in its execution. If we are supposed to be letting them shoot then there is no reason we shouldn’t be controlling the paint.
I’m excited about my burger but the bun keeps falling apart. This is upsetting.
Courtney buries a 3 point bank shot falling down as the shot clock runs out. he just caught and shot which is key for him. I think that was his 1st three since the Truman administration.
Stef penetrates and scores. Does he have 20 already?
Stef and Courtney spend an extended period of time doing a very complicated low five. Good to see.
A bit of back and forth. RC misses again, badly this time.
SECOND TIMEOUT 49-49
“Those were some very thin band people during the timeout” my mom says. We aren’t a musical family so we refer to band folks as if they are another species.
Stef misses a short one, Oy Ve! But then he hits a deep one. Atta boy SW.
Henry is playing much better than the stats will show. He is active and touches everything.
MW dunk and I think this thing could be ours.
Chism is scoring at will inside. No doubt we are small but goodness.
THIRD TIMEOUT 58-55 HOGS
We have trouble finishing teams, for a lot of reasons. Mostly due to a lack of lock down defense which is, in part, a function of size.
Courtney showing signs of taking over. Prince did a good job on him but noone else can stay in front of him.
Stef misses a 3 that could have been a dagger. story of the season.
Mike W misses a pair of FTs (not even close) that could’ve put us up 6.
Stef misses again from 3. Good shots. Gotta make them.
And it’s tied. prince is a decent ballplayer. I like him.
Did I mention that when I came into the game there was an older couple (early 70’s) leaning against a wall with their cute red sweaters and jeans on. The man had his left hand firmly stuck in his lady’s back pocket. Good Times!
Criminy - Henry misses and Chism gets hoop and harm.
CF makes a 3 pointer! - straight in I swear.
LAST TIMEOUT 64-64
CF drives and scores. The kid can play and has played well today.
Can’t make free throws though.
This slow pace leads to games like this - that can go either way. We can’t let this happen at home. And Tenn STILL hasn’t pressed.
Tie game with a minute and a half left but our defense is porous. Smith scores.
Courtney answers. Prince gets a tip in. Get a freakin’ STOP!
Down 2 we run down the shot clock - why? CF with a pretty bucket.
Maze pushes up the left side and makes a nearly unchallenged 8 footer. Wow the air just went out of this place.
Stef got the inbounds pass and went up the left side and got a clear jumper from 5 ft and missed. Chance at a tip and we miss.
FINAL SCORE 72-74 Tennessee
UT did execute the last 4 or 5 possessions quite well. We just have to be better than this.
Stef played well but had too many turnovers. Henry played well but shot poorly. CF just played well. Rotnei was off and had maybe his worst defensive game and maybe hurt his shoulder. We played almost NO bench which I just can’t understand. Moore and Clarke make tons of mistakes but at least they are active defensively and they couldn’t have been worse than what we had inside. But I don’t watch practice.
This season has become a bit of a sojourn, a long trudge. There are mountains and valleys within each game and each half and even each possession. I can see progress but again I can’t. I have little patience for the “We have no depth so we can’t play fast” excuses. We can always play like wild dogs. Go down hard in a blaze of glory. Make the opposition HATE to play us.
I guess I need to sit back and enjoy the journey for a bit. Winning isn’t everything. At least that’s what they tell me.
Until next time.
“I’m not sick, but I’m not well.