Thursday, October 13, 2005

Physical changes taking place

KNOXVILLE -- Change is in the air at Thompson-Boling Arena, and it extends to things beyond the opening of men's basketball season under new head coach Bruce Pearl next month.

Those drill rigs in the parking lot aren't aiming for oil, though athletics director Mike Hamilton might enjoy supplementing his budget with a wildcat strike or two (in basketball as well as in crude).

Soil samples are being taken to gauge the abilty of the porous earth in that location to sustain a new practice facility next to the arena, and although that project lies in the future, changes have also been made in the arena itself, including a return to orange and white only logos on the court floor, a resurrection of the Ray Mears room and an attempt to move the student section closer to the floor.

In addition, the media room will be relocated farther from donors and closer to the river, with hopes of eventually moving it into or across the river, but that part of the plan for resurrection of the arena is shhh, for now.

``We're looking at renovating this building and making it not just the largest but the best facility in the country,'' Pearl said at Tuesday's basketball media day on campus.

``You won't recognize the Ray Mears room next time you see it. We're moving forward on a new practice facility, which is an absolute necessity. We're changing the student section and with the new court with Pat Summitt's name, this is going to become one of the best facilities in college basketball. This will be a place we can recruit to and be as attractive as any place in the SEC.''

The Volunteers this season will also occasionally be wearing throwback uniforms reminiscent of the height of men's basketball a UT -- the Ernie and Bernie era.

Cosmetic changes aside, the familiar yet new Bruce Pearl Vols will be playing a different brand of basketball this season, with an emphasis on speed and defense that they say is unprecedented in their experience in the program.

``I love the fast pace. It's a style that opens things up for a lot of players,'' senior Stanley Asumnu said. ``Defense is the key. On offense, I'll be able to show more of what I can do.''

Point guard C.J. Watson, who will be the Vols' only other eligible senior when the season opens, says this team is going to use everyone in uniform.

``I think everybody is doing quite well,'' Watson said. ``At first, we weren't quite sure how everybody would fit into it, but now everybody is fitting in pretty good. Everybody's knowing their spots and knowing their roles.''

But how can optimism not reign at this point, among players, coaches and fans?

``It's a new opportunity for everyone,'' Asumnu says.

And Pearl is now the focus of all that is new and positive.

``I think people are going to give us a shot,'' he said. ``I think people are excited about men's basketball, and I tell you, we can win big here in men's basketball.''

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