KNOXVILLE - Tennessee football coach Butch Jones traveled to Miami in June for Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
Erik Spoelstra, the coach of the two-time defending champion Heat and a close friend of the Volunteers' first-year coach, returned the favor on Wednesday.
He visited with the Vols briefly after this morning's practice and will address the team further this afternoon prior to the day's second practice at Neyland Stadium tonight.
"I feel like it's an honor and a blessing to get to hear from the best," receiver Devrin Young said after practice. "I really appreciate Coach Jones for doing that. He's doing all he can to get us prepared and show us what it takes mentally and physically to win a championship.
"To me, I see it as bragging rights. I feel like my coach is cooler than yours. That's how I see it."
Jones and Spoelstra became close through their mutual agent, and their relationship goes back a couple of years. While Cincinnati's coach, Jones attended the Heat's title-clinching game against Oklahoma City last summer. In June, he took two of his sons to Game 7 and was on the court and in the locker room after LeBron James led Miami to a second consecutive title.
"I wanted him to take me with him. It was exciting," linebacker Dontavis Sapp joked. "I've seen a picture of him actually in the tunnel of the Heat game, in Game 7. Everybody doesn't get to do that.
"You see celebrities on the floor seats, but they're not in the tunnel with the team or in the locker room. That's exciting, to actually to say you know this guy in the tunnel of the Heat game."
In his first season in charge of Tennessee's program, Jones has brought in various guests and speakers to visit with his team, from a Navy SEALs unit this summer to various former Vols.
As with those visitors, there's a purpose in Spoelstra's presence.
"Any time you can bring an individual like Erik Spoelstra, the stature that he brings, to come in and spend an entire day with your football program means everything," he said. "First-class individual, high character, loves college football. He's a winner. He's won back-to-back NBA world championships, so he's going to have a great message for our team. He's a great friend, and I'm really indebted. He doesn't have much time off, and for him to come here, to come to Knoxville, and spend an entire day with our football program means a lot."
"Everyone remembers right now. Everyone remembers the last two years, but I think a lot of people forget what went [into] that. Prior to his first year with the Miami Heat, they won 15 games. He's going to talk about the building process and building it brick by brick and building that culture and building that structure that it takes to be successful like they have in Miami."
Jones first told his team Spoelstra was planning to visit about a week ago, and even though the coach talks about his big-name friend, a few players were skeptical.
"When he first said it," Sapp said, "everybody's peeking and whispering like, 'He don't know Erik Spoelstra. You're just Coach Jones.' It's exciting to see him finally here. He's always talking about him, and I'm excited to hear what he has to say to us later on this afternoon.
"He's like, 'My boy Erik Spoelstra called me,' and they're best friends, but you know everybody's like, 'Come on, man, you don't know Erik Spoelstra.' Obviously he's proved us wrong."
The Vols' coach has a picture in his office of he and Spoelstra holding a replica of the NBA championship trophy signed by the Heat. Spoelstra used Jones' "sign your name" motivational mantra. Tennessee players, coaches and staff were wearing white t-shirts with "Championship Wednesday" across the front, along with the Vols' "Power T" logo beside the Heat's logo.
"Everybody was excited because he just won a championship," said receiver Jason Croom. "Everybody's excited to see what he has to say. We're going to take a lot from it."
That is Jones' desire.
"It's really cool," tight end Brendan Downs said. "He just said we've got another meeting with him later, so he's going to catch up with us little more then. Just seeing him in person is pretty cool. I've kept with the playoffs the whole time and kept up with the Heat, so it's a pretty cool experience.
"He's a champion at the highest level, so anytime you can be around a guy like that, just to see and pick up anything that he's saying, that's big."