By Gary Parrish
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- I spoke to the Big Orange Tipoff Club this afternoon.
They were nice to invite me.
And they're fired up about their basketball team.
That's the vibe I got from the crowd at Calhoun's on the River, an appropriately named establishment because it is indeed on the river. And it just goes to show how a program-altering signing, a win against a ranked team and a competitive showing against a great team can change the perception of a first-year coach in a matter of weeks.
One month ago, Tenneessee was 3-6 and coming off a loss to Charleston. Consequently, some fans were questioning whether this whole Cuonzo Martin thing was gonna work, others were asking if it might be possible to rehire Bruce Pearl in three years. But then the Vols got a commitment from Jarnell Stokes, a consensus top-20 recruit from Memphis who enrolled at the semester. And then they beat No. 17 Florida in a convincing manner. And then they played No. 2 Kentucky to a one-possession game while Stokes looked surprisingly comfortable.
And now the majority of Tennesseee fans seem on board.
They still love BP, of course. That probably isn't changing. But they've seen their new coach land his first high-profile recruit and record his first high-profile win over the past month, and they've watched a roster of players mostly recruited by the previous staff start to buy-in. So now the fans are starting to buy in, too. Who knows how it'll all end up? It's still too early to tell. But the tone has undeniably changed in Knoxville. That's what I learned this afternoon.