KNOXVILLE — Melvin Goins may have summed it up perfectly.
“It’s not the typical senior class,” Tennessee’s senior point guard said Friday.
While most senior days involve a group of players who have been through a program for four or five years, the Volunteers playing their final home game today against Kentucky clearly break that mold.
Goins and guard Josh Bone transferred from mid-major schools, center John Fields came to UT as a graduate student for a one-year career, and walk-on guard Michael Hubert started his college career at UT-Chattanooga.
Forward Steven Pearl is a fifth-year former walk-on. Brian Williams, who won’t play due to lingering tightness in his back, is the only senior who will be honored today who took the normal route.
“It just says a lot,” Goins said, “about our team, about how we’ve fought through adversity and just our character — how strong we are as people and as a team. It’s a beautiful thing.”
All six players will graduate soon or have already, which has UT coach Bruce Pearl smiling.
“I think the common denominator there is you had a lot of not highly recruited guys in that class,” he said. “They have all managed to be able to compete at the high-major level and compete well. I think there’s a level of toughness with this group.
“Those guys came close to maximizing their abilities. As a coach I always want more, and I challenged them to give us more and be more consistent, and I have high expectations for all of them. Over the long haul I think you have to look at the group and say they made a lot of their opportunity at the University of Tennessee both on and off the court.”
Goins began his career at Ball State and made a stop at junior college before coming to UT as Bobby Maze’s backup last season. He’s taking 19 hours this semester and will graduate in May with a degree in sociology. While he has hopes for basketball after college, Goins wants to start a foundation for at-risk youth and patients with multiple sclerosis, a disease his mother has had for two years.
Bone won four state titles at Brentwood Academy and spent two years at Southern Illinois. He paid his own way to UT last season and has developed into the Vols’ lockdown perimeter defender.
“Things change: The Lord sent me here,” Bone said. “I got recruited by [former UT coach] Buzz Peterson a lot in my high school career. Being from Tennessee and playing for your home state is a privilege.”
Fields made stops at East Carolina and UNC-Wilmington and used his status as a graduate student to play his one final year of eligibility at UT. Though he’s started at center since January, the season hasn’t gone as well as shot-blocking specialist had hoped.
“This last eight- or nine-game stretch has been the worst of my career by far,” he said. “I can’t put a finger on it, why I’m not playing well. Tennessee gave me an opportunity — I appreciate it to the fullest. You sometimes wish you had an extra year, but it was a one-year situation.”
Steven Pearl went from walk-on to joining Wayne Chism as the only guys who lasted from the hyped 2006 class that included Ramar Smith and Duke Crews.
“No one expected me to be where I am right now,” Pearl said. “Everyone thought I was on the team just because of who my dad was. In high school I was a 6-4, skinny, athletic shooter. Now I’m this linebacker-looking kid who plays a lot of defense and does all the dirty work. My transformation’s been crazy.”
The winding road for each of UT’s seniors won’t end today, and they’ll have much to say about when it ultimately does.
“In order for us to make our run,” Bruce Pearl said, “in order for us to beat Kentucky, in order for us to advance in the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament, they have to play better.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...