The Memphis vs. Tennessee basketball relationship is taking a breather.
After nine meetings between the teams in the last eight seasons that were separated by a total of 13 points, Interstate 40 will not flow with the hate of the in-state rivalry in the 2013-14 season.
A UT spokesman added Monday that no movement has been made in regards to the future of the series.
However, there is still something basketball-related flowing from the hoops-crazed Bluff City to Knoxville.
The year before Bruce Pearl took over as Tennessee head coach in 2004-05, the UT roster included three players with direct ties to West Tennessee. Dane Bradshaw, Scooter McFadgon and Fred Smithwick all hailed from Memphis.
Over the following years, the pipeline began closing off. J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism – both key players during the six-year Pearl era – each came from West Tennessee. But Prince first attended Arizona before transferring to UT, and Chism actually came from Bolivar, which sits two counties east of the talent-rich gyms in Memphis.
By 2010-11, Pearl's final season, no Memphians were suiting up for the Vols.
That is changing under Cuonzo Martin. Now on the cusp of his third season, Martin has tapped back into the recruiting hotbed situated on the banks of the Mississippi River.
In fact, it was one of his first orders of business upon arrival.
He went head-to-head with Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Florida's Billy Donovan and, yes, Memphis' Josh Pastner to land Jarnell Stokes, a five-star power forward from Memphis Central.
Stokes enrolled for the second half of the 2011-12 season and contributed immediately. When the Vols tip vs. Xavier tonight, he'll be beginning his third season in orange.
And now he'll be playing alongside two Memphis-oriented newcomers he helped recruit because of their own ties to his hometown.
Antonio Barton – a Memphis transfer – is expected be the primary point guard in 2013-14 and freshman guard Robert Hubbs III, a Dyer County product who played AAU basketball with M33M out of Memphis, will play significant minutes for UT.
Martin denied paying much special attention to Memphis in recruiting, saying instead his staff focuses on finding talented players who fit the program.
"But that is a place we have to recruit in to have success," Martin said at UT's basketball media day. "And we've been blessed to get those three guys to be a part of our program."
For those three players, though, the reality of playing for a program that most University of Memphis fans loathe is a bit more personal.
Stokes announced his highly-anticipated commitment on Dec. 23, 2011, and less than two weeks later, the Vols traveled to Memphis to face the Tigers in FedEx Forum.
After 13 days of mixed responses from his city and plenty of disgust from radio callers and message board posters, he sat behind the Tennessee bench in a public display of commitment to the Vols.
"That was a bad idea," said Stokes, who played his AAU ball with Memphis YOMCA.
"I felt like I had betrayed my city, but in actuality I felt like I made the right choice," he said. "Just watching the game, it was a nightmare."
As Stokes described it, the Vols "got their heads beat in" that night. But the mentality of the team following the loss impressed Stokes and reaffirmed his decision.
"After the game the guys were saying, 'I can't wait to play this game. We're going to win,' and it just happened that we played Florida next," Stokes said. "We beat Florida, and that was a top-10 team, so it showed the resilience the team had.
"I felt like they were missing a piece, and I felt like I could have been that piece. That was my mindset in picking Tennessee."
With his decision nearly two years in the past, Stokes holds no regrets. That brief feeling of betrayal is trumped by a bigger loyalty.
"I'm playing for the state I grew up in," Stokes said. "I'm not only representing the city, I'm representing the state. That means a lot to me."
Though Barton is a Maryland native with no intrinsic ties to Memphis or the state, the fact that he spent three seasons playing for the Tigers allowed Stokes to give him an insider sales pitch as he chose to leave Memphis and cross the state for his senior season.
"It made me feel comfortable that I have a guy that I can actually vibe with," Barton said of Stokes, who was one of the first to call when he heard rumblings that Barton may transfer.
Though Barton dropped 19 points on the Vols the night Stokes sat behind the UT bench, neither sensed animosity in evaluating the possibility of Barton donning orange for the 2013-14 season.
Nevermind that a fight nearly broke out between Barton's older brother Will and former UT guard Wes Washpun because of the excessive physicality of the game.
"It was always like that when we played Tennessee," Barton said.
Because of games like that, the 6-foot-2 Baltimore native needed no warning on what Memphis fans might have to say about his decision to transfer to UT.
"Of course, because it was a rival, a lot of people were shocked that I decided to come here, but a lot of people understood my situation, and they went to bat for me," Barton said. "At the end of the day, you can't please everybody, and I made the best decision for me and my family. Coming here was the thing I had to do."
Hubbs experienced less of a backlash because his hometown of Newbern is 86 miles north of Memphis. But he still related to Stokes because of their mutual background within the Memphis-area AAU basketball community.
Barton and Hubbs are both natural scorers and players who could theoretically decrease the number of touches Stokes receives in the paint as he seeks to bolster his draft stock.
But Stokes paid no mind to such things in convincing Barton to make that familiar five-hour trek east.
"He just needed a chance, that's all," Stokes said. "He'll finally get his chance this year to show what he can do. He didn't get much of a chance at Memphis."
It works out ironically. If the Vols were on the Memphis schedule this year, Barton would not have been permitted to transfer to Tennessee.
"I wanted to play Memphis at Memphis this year," Barton said. "But they're not on the schedule.
"Hopefully we'll run into them in the tournament."