This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little
Though Memorial Day marks the unofficial commencement of summer vacation for many, NCAA and Tennessee athletes continue hard work on fields and courts across the country. Some compete in championship tournaments while others work to build programs for the following season. Either way, their stories make their way into record books, creating narratives through every season.
Take a look back at some early summer moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
May 29, 2009
Upon his return from a visit to his home of Kaduna, Nigeria, Tennessee basketball player Emmanuel Negedu sat down with UTSports.com’s Brandon Shell for a Q&A session 10 years ago this week for insights into his life as an international athlete. Playing and studying overseas separated Negedu from his family for two years, and the trip served as a respite for the then-sophomore who attended Brewster Academy in New Hampshire prior to his time at UT.
With intentions of staying two weeks, Negedu spent nearly a full day flying and driving to return to Nigeria. However, a metaphorical bump in the road detained him for a little longer, as he needed to renew his visa to stay in the U.S. as a student athlete – and navigating roads in Nigeria sometimes proves difficult.
“The governments are different in the way they view things,” Negedu said of differences between the United States and Nigeria. “And the people in Nigeria are different in some ways, but they are very similar also. The main difference would be the roads and the way the people drive. The roads in Nigeria are crazy. People ride bicycles on the roads, and the people who are driving act like they don’t even see them. Also, there are a lot of kids who are on the streets trying to get some food for their families or for themselves.”
The 6-foot-7 forward gladly indulged in native foods during his sojourn to his home country. Though he most enjoyed seeing family, friends, and the place where he first dribbled a ball, he happily strayed from the Tennessee nutrition regimen.
“I ate everything there, because a lot of it I can’t eat in the U.S.,” Negedu said. “My favorite is goat meat, and I ate some rabbit and a bunch of other stuff. I had to kill the goat in order for us to eat it.”
When he returned, Negedu refocused on basketball, working to get back in shape after consuming his favorite foods. His health, however, took a turn later in the year. On Sept. 28, 2009, the 20-year-old suffered a sudden cardiac arrest which effectively ended his basketball career at Tennessee, though he remained on full scholarship and traveled with the team as a sophomore.
As a freshman, Negedu played in 33 of 34 games, shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line (28 of 35) and averaged 1.7 rebounds per game. Though his sophomore season ended prematurely, his life did not.
“There’s millions of people that never have the opportunity that I have right now,” Negedu said to Drew Edwards of UTSports.com. There’s too many people who wish they had this opportunity that I’m getting right now. I just have to make the right decision and make a good choice about it. I think I’m going to be fine.”
Later, Negedu transferred to New Mexico and secured an NCAA waiver to allow for immediate play. Doctors cleared him for play, but after 10 games, a “bad read” on his defibrillator finally sidelined him for good.
May 27, 2010
Another single-season former Vol found his way into UT sports history this week as tennis player Rodney Harmon left his mark on both the UT program and men’s collegiate tennis as a whole. In a ceremony at the NCAA Championships in Athens, Georgia, Harmon entered the ITA Men’s Collegiate Hall of Fame on May 27, 2010.
Recruiters flocked to Richmond, Virginia, in 1979 when Harmon sought a spot on an NCAA team. He volunteered to join Tennessee’s squad and amply maintained his national notice. He entered the top 10 in the country in singles rankings, posting a 35-7 record in his freshman campaign, and he teamed up with Hall of Famer Mel Purcell with whom he won a national doubles title. The duo, ranked No. 1, defeated Tony Giammalva and Johnny Benson 7-6, 7-6 to take the 1980 championship.
That same week, another Tennessee doubles team looked to score the second doubles title for the program. John-Patrick Smith and Davey Sandgren warmed up for an NCAA doubles championship as Harmon remembered his own. Smith earned an ITA accolade one day prior, receiving the Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award in recognition of his prowess and personality.
“Smith’s on-court honors and accomplishments grow larger by the day, having already become one of the most accomplished players in all of college tennis,” ITA said in its statement. “Smith is also one of the most genuine and well-liked players of the sport.”
At the time, Smith ranked No. 1 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. His recognition highlighted his other accolades including SEC Player of the Year and SEC Championship MVP, among others.
Four days later, he had the chance to make Tennessee history in the title match against Virginia.
May 31, 2010
Virginia’s Michael Shabaz and Drew Courtney served up a stinging loss to Smith and Sandgren in the NCAA Doubles Championship. The loss marked the second consecutive to Shabaz, who, along with Dominic Inglot, ended the Vols’ season in three sets in 2009.
As in the season prior, the Tennessee twosome won the tiebreaker 7-4 to take the first set before Virginia powered past the Vols. Courtney sealed their fate with an ace for an exclamatory win and the crown.
The loss marked Smith’s third NCAA individual tournament loss to Virginia, having lost to Somdev Devvarmann in singles finals his freshman season.
“They kind of rolled through the end and played with confidence,” Smith said. “Lesson learned is you’ve got to take care of every service game because in doubles, it’s so hard to come back from a break.”
Though their season ended sourly, Smith and Sandgren sat at No. 3 nationally and set the record for doubles wins in a single season, going 41-9 overall.
Shabaz and Courtney eared a wildcard bid to the 2010 U.S. Open as a result of their teamwork, looking forward to careers as professionals.
“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet that I am a NCAA champion,” Courtney said after the match. “I played well and really just tried to enjoy myself on the court and to enjoy the moment. I am excited for not only the win, but for the future.”