A new season is beginning for the Tennessee Vols basketball, and with it comes some excellent additions to the team and hope for the future.
With four incoming freshmen and a senior transfer, the Vols are aiming for a stellar season this year and in the years to come. Trae Golden, Tobias Harris, Jordan McRae, Tyler Summitt and senior John Fields are working hard in practices and building relationships with their teammates to prepare for a tough season that is quickly approaching, and coach Bruce Pearl has complete confidence in them.
"I think the big thing is, they look like they can all play," Pearl said. "I think that they're different as far as their positions and their abilities, but they all can play at a higher level."
This is especially applicable for Fields as he transfers to the team from UNC-Wilmington. With the experience he received from playing college basketball and the training he gets with his team now, Fields is ready for the higher level of competition and bigger crowd playing at a major school presents.
"I love Knoxville," Fields said. "This is the best situation with great fans. It's a big-time program on a bigger scale. Just the attendance and the fan participation in every sport is just crazy. Seeing 20,000 people in orange and white will be a big deal for me."
The veterans on the team admire and appreciate the incoming players and are looking forward to seeing how they will affect the team. Senior guard Josh Bone said that, while there are many different personalities on the team, they are working well together and will be a great addition.
"I feel like everybody's ready to shine," Bone said. "Everybody is going to play a big part in our season."
One of the biggest things that the team has to work towards is preparing for the shock of entering Thompson-Boling Arena for their first real game. While Bone feels that there is little the team can do to prepare the newcomers, he believes they will rise to the challenge.
"There isn't a way to prepare them," Bone said. "You're gonna have jitters anyway. The first shot, you're gonna have butterflies in your stomach, but they'll be ready. They'll get it out easy with their first score, just like any other game. Just playing basketball and tell them that it's basketball, and there's nothing to be scared of."
After graduating several starters last year, including Bobby Maze and Wayne Chism, the freshmen have a better opportunity to get some playing time early on. They are already coming to the program with a great record, and now they have to opportunity to prove that.
"They each have different opportunities based on their returning roster," Pearl said. "Tobias Harris has a good chance to play, not just because he's a McDonald's All-American and a great player, but also we lost some guys in his position. Trae Golden will have an opportunity because we lost Bobby Maze. Jordan McRae will have an opportunity because of graduating J.P. also, so they're all going to have an opportunity to contribute."
Pearl feels that relationships between teammates are strong and that this will have an effect on the team as a whole and the way they perform this season. He said the freshmen have bonded through the summer and through different workouts but that relationships between the veterans and the freshmen are there as well.
"They're all hard working, and they're all unselfish players," Pearl said. "I think that's what this team will appreciate."
The freshmen themselves are eager to experience their first game in Division-I basketball. One of the biggest things that the newcomers are excited about are the fans.
"I'm excited about my first UT game and playing in front of the Rocky Top fans," McRae said. "I've been to a couple games on my visits, and it's crazy in front of 25,000."
Despite the awing experience of being cheered on by such an overwhelming crowd, McRae seems to be unconcerned about nerves on the court.
"I'm not really the kind of person who gets nervous," McRae said.
With this in mind, the team will continue to prepare with confidence and with an eagerness to begin the season. McRae said the team is just enjoying themselves through the entire process, and that one of his favorite parts of being on the team is the relationships.
"Our team is a fun team," McRae said. "We'll have lots of fun."