By Alex Norman
Over the past couple of years, the off season was a welcome time in the world of Tennessee basketball. From 2015-2017, the Vols didn’t play in the postseason, and frankly everyone was ready for a temporary break. But that was before the 2017-2018 season, in which the Vols exceeded expectations, shared the SEC championship, advanced to the SEC tournament finals and came within a bucket of the Sweet 16.
Last week a couple of stories hit the newswire that are worth paying attention to for a team that is considered by some to be one of the top five in the country heading into the 2018-2019 season.
First, Tennessee announced that senior guard Chris Darrington will be transferring.
“We appreciate all of Chris’ contribution both on and off the court this past year,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes in a statement release by the University of Tennessee. “We all wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
Darrington joined the program from the JUCO ranks in the off season, and looked good during summer exhibition games in Europe, leading the team in scoring. He would play in 25 games for the Vols during the regular season, but minutes were hard to come by as the season waned on. He averaged 8.4 minutes per game and 2.6 points per contest.
This means the Vols will have two scholarships to offer for next year, including one when senior guard James Daniel III graduated. The Vols are in desperate need of point guard help, and that will be an emphasis this recruiting cycle.
The other big news happening last week involved the popular Rocky Top League, the summer exhibition league that has been a fan favorite since Bruce Pearl sparked the efforts in 2007. Fox Sports Radio reported that the league will not take place this summer. This reasoning behind that decision is that it gives Tennessee’s players more time to concentrate on the off season conditioning.
That is completely understandable. In watching those games I often wondered what the reaction would have been if, say, Tyler Smith had blown out his knee during what was a meaningless exhibition. The league might have been cancelled immediately. So it makes complete sense to stop playing.
But from a fans point of view, it is sad to see the games go. In later years the games were played at Knoxville Catholic. But most of these games took place at Bearden High School. Let me tell know… a gym with no air conditioning in later spring and early summer? Man it was toasty.
But it was so much fun to watch those games. Not only the current Tennessee players, but the alums like Wayne Chism and Ron Slay that would come back to town to hone their skills. Plus, players with local ties that didn’t play for Tennessee that got a chance to shine.
The absence of the Rocky Top League leaves a significant void in the summer months. There is only so much sports media material that one can read about the Tennessee quarterback position battle. Think about it. On June 1st there are still three months to go before Tennessee opens the season against West Virginia in Charlotte. The RTL was a great break in the summer doldrums.
We still have the Tennessee Smokies… and high school football practice starts in mid-July… but overall it’s pretty barren locally.
If nothing else, we are seeing how important Tennessee men’s basketball is now to the Knoxville sports fan. It hasn’t always been that way…