Because this is my blog, I get to write about whatever I want….and today I want to write about the 18-19 Tennessee Vols basketball team. It is the morning following their devastating overtime loss in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament and I, along with all Vols fans, am very sad. I’m not necessarily sad because they lost a game, I’m sad because this is the end of a very special season. I doubt this kind of team will be replicated any time soon. So, what makes them so special? Let me count the ways.
1) They were underdogs. Not a single player on this team was a five-star recruit or All American. In fact, the seniors lost 19 games their freshman year and 16 the year following that. They know what it’s like to be considered really bad and they worked incredibly hard to be a winning program and to earn the respect of fans, coaches and media. Their physical transformations have been well documented and those changes do not happen without thousands of hours of really hard work and discipline. They bought in and gave their all for Tennessee.
2) They were super talented nerds and clearly had so much fun together. On road trips they could be seen playing “Settlers of Catan” or making music and dancing. Grant Williams is a classical pianist; Admiral and Kyle both play multiple instruments and sing. Jordan Bowden is a phenomenal dancer who was always more than willing to share his humor and dance moves with us. They were just so entertaining and so much fun.
3) They always rooted for one another. With a team mantra of “It’s not about me” their love for each other and sincere desire to want to see their teammates succeed, even at their own expense, is exactly what everyone who has ever been part of a team dreams about. That example alone and the legacy they left for teams to follow sets them apart in my opinion. It was always difficult to choose a favorite, because from week to week I never knew who was going to stand out in some way. So, I just loved them all. When the bench guys got to come into games and the starters tried to feed them the ball to give them opportunities to score, it was heartwarming. But when those guys DID score and the starters went nuts for them, it was the absolute best. Such a great team.
4) They were classy. Although each of them played with a high level of emotion and competitiveness, they were not cocky or condescending to any opponent. They carried themselves on and off of the court in ways that made all Vols fans proud to root for their success.
5) Finally, and most importantly, they used their platform to boldly proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ and to always give Him the glory for any success they may have experienced. Led by a coach who taught them that their eternity was far more important than their days as Volunteers, they embraced the importance of a personal relationship with God and acknowledged often what that relationship meant to them. From Jordan Bone writing AO1 on his hand each game (Audience of ONE) to Jordan Bowden acknowledging his baptism as the highlight of his season in the postgame interview last night, they have been vocal and sincere about the influence of God. If you caught the video of them kneeling together in the locker room following their heartbreaking loss, I doubt you could watch without shedding some tears. They are family….and HE is clearly the head.
I will continue to pray for these young men and hope to follow their future successes. Whether they continue to succeed in basketball or not is yet to be seen, but I am certain they will continue to be amazing men, amazing husbands, amazing fathers and amazing role models for young people watching them along the way. I can’t thank this team enough for the joy they brought to my life this season. So proud to be a Vol for Life.