The Tennessee athletic department is shaken after an on-campus break-in left the men's basketball team without precious equipment. The theft, which was likely perpetrated by an experienced individual or small group, occurred sometime after 4:00 a.m. Monday, hours before the Vols' scheduled shootaround at their Pratt Pavilion practice home.
"We showed up for practice and everything seemed normal," said freshman guard Scotty Hopson, "but then, when I went to hit the floor to shoot, I realized I forgot something so I went back to my locker to grab it, and that's when I noticed it was missing. My headband was gone." Hopson thought he might have been the victim of a joke or some freshman hazing. "I hoped it was just somebody messing with me, but I was ready to do anything to get it back, long as I didn't have to play defense, of course."
Hopson's suspicions were unfortunately misplaced. In fact, as the Hopkinsville, Ky. native was discovering his missing brow protector, his Volunteer teammates were coming to similarly harsh realizations.
"I was hoping my man Hopstin just left it at my house after the all-night freestyle session," lamented Junior college-transfer point guard Bobby Maze
. "I don't wear one of those things, but I could tell him and the guys were pretty upset. Like, on the verge of straight bawlin'. I had to go get coach." The Tennessee leader, head coach Bruce Pearl spoke with the media shortly before noon, and his comments left major questions around the status of the program.
"Bobby was the first one to tell me something was wrong. He thought maybe we were getting pranked, or I think he phrased it, 'put oooooonnnnnn', but we know now it was some kind of crime. Either way, it's an unspeakably cruel and heinous act. The people that did this should be found and shot dead in the street," said Pearl. "We don't know who would think to do something so despicable; so reprehensible; so underhanded. This may be the worst thing that's ever happened to me or my team. Except for when I had to go coach 6th grade girls after I made up that stuff about Illinois
. That was pretty bad, too. But hey, at least it was girls. Am I right or am I right?" Pearl's requests for high fives were not immediately returned.
At press time, police had yet to identify any clear suspects, although they are following up leads on a few known thieves
, professional pickpocketers
, and recent offenders
. Coach Pearl, whose interview had to be cut short because of an urgent tutoring session with a struggling female student, had a few of his own ideas on who might be the culprits.
"Maybe Memphis, but they have plenty of headbands already." said Pearl. "Could also be Kentucky. They're in town and could've done it, but I'm pretty sure they've been practicing straight through since they got off the bus. Might have been the guys at Vandy, although frankly I don't see those guys pulling off something this cool. It was obviously someone who wanted to hit us right where it hurts."
Reactions were mixed among Volunteer players. "How am I supposed to know who's on my team? Who to pass to? Am I still supposed to pass? This is serious, man. I don't even want to talk about it. What? I am talking about it? I'm so confused. No comment," commented Vols leading scorer Tyler Smith.
"I honestly can't even see my headband when I have it on
, so it wouldn't be too bad to play without it. But my Parietal bone
gets mad sweaty, so it'll definitely bother me a little bit," admitted senior big man Wayne Chism. Chism was even more concerned about the well-being of his teammates. "I mean, it's rough on everybody. Me, Hops, Cam Tatum
. What a thing to do. It's ludicrous." Maze echoed Chism's concerned sentiments. "Yeah I'm worried about Wayne, and I can't forget about my man [point guard J.P.] Prince. Can't forget about my man Prince. Did somebody say they saw Ludacris?"
Not every one of the Tennessee players was upset by the missing headwear, as coach's son and guard Steven Pearl
had his own views. "Man, the guys that actually play hold me down and put like ten of those things on me almost every day. I look ridiculous and dad just sort of laughs and gives them all high fives. So no, I'm not real disappointed they're gone. There I said it," conceded the youngest Pearl.
Not surprisingly, faulty defense seems to be to blame for Tennessee's plight. It was Hopson's night to be guarding the locker room, although he was reportedly seen asleep in the film room with some of his own highlights playing at around the time of the crime, a charge the freshman disputes.
"Watchin' my own films? Anybody who knows me knows I hate guarding, but I'm not gonna skip out on that to do something stupid like watch film. Unless it's got Jake Gyllenhaal in it. That guy's bananas. Anyway, that'd be selfish to be watching your own highlights. I was playing as myself on NCAA '09."
"I pretty much came to Tennessee to do two things: Not guard and wear a headband," added Hopson. "Now my first love has cost me my second. It's an ironic twist of fate, to be sure."
Coach Pearl was candid when speaking about the status of his team moving forward. "We're going to try to cope. We've got counselors on site and we've notified Kentucky of our situation. They know we don't plan on playing another game until we get our headbands back."
When asked why he didn't just go out and buy new headbands for the team, Pearl scoffed. "Yeah, that might seem like it'll solve the problem to you. But for me the first step in solving any problem...well...the first step in anything really, is to draw as much attention to myself as possible. That usually works out pretty well for me. So we're gonna try that before we try your 'Go buy new ones' garbage."
The status of the game, scheduled to tip at 9 p.m. on ESPN, is still up in the air, as Pearl is attempting to petition the SEC to postpone the contest citing an extreme emergency. "We're not sure if Kentucky or the conference is on board with us, but they need to realize that when you lose maybe the most important part of your basketball family, it's gonna take some time. It's just gonna take us some time."