This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little
Last week, the world flipped its calendars to August – known in East Tennessee as the first month of college football. August also marks the first weeks of school for University of Tennessee students, faculty, staff, administration, coaches, and athletes. This month, student athletes gear up to return to courts, fields, and pools to continue a tradition of competition in the Southeastern Conference.
Take a look back at moments that built such tradition in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
Aug. 6, 1960
On an early August Saturday in 1960, people bustled across downtown areas to enjoy the weekend. Some might have gone to see “Ocean’s Eleven” starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford at the local theater. Others might have shopped around while listening to Brenda Lee on the radio. But few, if anyone, milled about thinking about Tennessee basketball with the season still months away.
However, something happened that day in Marietta, Georgia, that would influence the UT basketball program, SEC, and NBA forever. While people out-and-about breathed in the airs of the new decade, All-American Dale Ellis took his first breaths on Aug. 6, 1960.
Ellis, who played at Tennessee from 1979 until 1983, earned two honors as SEC Player of the Year and first team All-American honors as he led the Vols to the NCAA tournament each year he played. In 1982 and 1983, he averaged more than 21 points per game as a forward. He finished his career at UT holding the records for career and single season field goal percentages. The Dallas Mavericks took notice and drafted Ellis in the 1983 NBA Draft at ninth overall.
“Dale Ellis represents everything that’s great about being a Tennessee Volunteer,” former UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said in 2013. “He performed at a championship level while he was here. He achieved the ultimate goal, which is to graduate. And he went on to have a very successful professional career.”
Ellis earned his degree in sociology in 1985, having worked during NBA breaks to meet graduation requirements. During his professional career (1983-2000), he played for six different teams and became one of the best three-point shooters to play in the NBA with 1,719 three-point shots (.403 3P%). He scored 19,004 points, averaging 15.7 points per game.
His Tennessee No. 14 now hangs on a banner in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena to honor his contributions; the University of Tennessee retired Ellis’ jersey in 2014. He was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Aug. 6, 1999
While Ellis represented the Volunteers in the NBA, a Lady Vol chose to trade in her orange and white. On Aug. 6, 1999, coach Pat Summitt announced center Teresa Geter intended to leave the program just as the athletic office published scheduling for the storied team.
The 6’3” center hailing from Columbia, South Carolina, decided to opt out of her junior season despite success on Rocky Top. Her freshman campaign was perfect – literally. The Lady Vols earned a record of 39-0 on their way to the 1998 NCAA Championship title. Geter played in all 39 contests. She posted 93 blocked shots on the boards that season, breaking a 12-year-old Tennessee record and leading the SEC in blocked shots.
During her sophomore season, Geter averaged 5.9 points per game and 1.6 blocks per game as the Lady Vols earned a record of 31-3, barely missing a fifth-consecutive Final Four appearance.
So, why transfer?
“After two years at UT, I feel like I need a change closer to home,” Geter said in a release. “I’m going to investigate my options and plan to transfer to a school in or near South Carolina. I had a prosperous career in my two years at Tennessee.”
She landed close to home. Really close. And still in the SEC.
Geter continued her collegiate career at the University of South Carolina, an SEC East rival. She sat out the 1999-2000 season because of eligibility rules but put on the black and garnet the next season. During the 2000-01 season, the Lady Gamecocks lost to Tennessee by 54 points. However, Geter averaged 9.2 points per game the following season on the road to the Elite Eight in the Gamecocks’ first tournament appearance in a decade.
Despite her decision to transfer, many Vol fans and coaches applaud Geter for her efforts to lead Tennessee during her time in orange.
“She helped us beat North Carolina at Vandy’s gym in the finals of the regionals to go to the national championship,” former associate and head coach Holly Warlick said in a 2010 interview for the Knoxville News Sentinel. “Wouldn’t have done it without her. She had a bunch of steals, a bunch of layups. She was awesome.”
Geter played as a teammate of current Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper during that game in which Harper, then Kellie Jolly, made two free throws with less than 20 seconds remaining to seal the Lady Vol win, 76-70.
Aug. 9, 2011
Though basketball remains somewhat on the radar of Tennessee fans early in the fall – depending on the year – many find their focus on football. On Aug. 9, 2011, Derek Dooley’s Vols suited up for a complete scrimmage ahead of his second season as UT’s head coach.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray hoped to retain the starting job for the 2011 season. He had taken over for Matt Simms on Nov. 6, 2010 in a 50-14 road win against Memphis, throwing for 325 yards. He led Tennessee to four-straight wins to close out the regular season before a heartbreaking overtime loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
At the early scrimmage, Bray completed 13 of 29 attempts for 165 yards with a longest completion of 30 yards, avoiding any interceptions. Simms did not make a convincing case to reclaim his starting position, only completing three of 12 passes with one interception. Both quarterbacks kept a slow pace, perhaps too slow for the competitive SEC.
“It was a typical first scrimmage in a lot of ways,” Dooley said. “We have a long way to go as a team. There wasn’t much chemistry on offense and not much tempo. It’s like 11 parts out there not working together. We had a lot of delay of games. The administration of the plays weren’t very good.”
Though many watched the QB position with skepticism as for potential, most eyes remained on the likes of running back Tauren Poole and future NFL receiver Justin Hunter. Poole played for three head coaches – Fulmer, Kiffin, and Dooley – during his time at Tennessee. He rushed for a total of 1,898 yards on 423 carries between 2008 and 2011. During the scrimmage, he tallied 24 yards to lead multiple backs like Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane.
Hunter, who played in five games last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, picked up 35 receiving yards in the scrimmage. He hoped to have a successful sophomore campaign after earning All-SEC Freshman Team honors in 2010. However, he would go on to suffer a season-ending injury (torn ACL) at Florida after starting the first three games of 2011. Hunter fell behind Poole and teammate Da’Rick Rogers during the scrimmage with each tallying 47 and 77 yards, respectively.
Dooley remained optimistic for individual players, though he noted the team needed to become a cohesive unit.
“You see some individual plays get made,” Dooley said. “You see (Tauren) Poole making his plays. You see Da’Rick (Rogers) and Justin (Hunter) making their plays. You see Tyler (Bray) making some throws. You see the guys on defense flying around a little bit better.”
Though individual playmakers made their marks on the program, the team never clicked. The Vols went on to earn an overall losing record of 5-7 in 2011, only winning one conference game (Vanderbilt in OT, 27-21) and no road match-ups. The season ended with a dismal loss to Kentucky on the road.
Here’s hoping the 2019 team works as a unit.