Basketball fans can get their first look at the Lady Vols and Gentlemen Vols who once again will take over Market Square with basketball, music, skills contests, fireworks and a drone show.
The madness will begin downtown on Thursday, Oct. 12. The event with the players will begin at 7 p.m. Starting at 6:30 p.m., fans can take photos with Smokey and the Tennessee Spirit Squads, along with face painting stations and on-court contests for prizes.
For years, minus during the pandemic restrictions, these preseason events have occurred at the arena. Tennessee made the shift a year ago to downtown, and fans packed Market Square. It also drew the attention of people who happened to be downtown and ended up seeing a basketball show.
“I think these events are really important,” coach Kellie Harper said after the event debuted in 2022. “We have to be accessible to our fans. They’re such a big part of who we are and what we do. Events like this allow us to showcase personality. I am glad our fans got to see that firsthand.”
Market Square Madness is free, and city-owned garages will have the gates up by the time fans leave. Early weather forecasts show a warm afternoon and cool, but not cold, evening.
The month of October means basketball is oh-so-close – the Lady Vols get started Oct. 30 with an exhibition game against Carson-Newman and then a matchup against the U.S. Women’s National Team on Nov. 5.
The first two home games for Tennessee will feature former Lady Vols as head coaches on the opposing bench. The season opener is Nov. 7 against Florida A&M with first-year head coach Bridgette Gordon at the helm.
The second home game is Nov. 13 against Memphis with Alex Fuller Simmons starting her first season for the Tigers after turning around Gardner-Webb in her first stint as a head coach.
Gordon, a native of Deland, Florida, won two national titles at Tennessee in 1987 and 1989 and an Olympic gold medal in 1988. She also was a two-time Kodak and Naismith All-American. The influence of her late coach, Pat Summitt, is apparent.
“We were willing to run through a wall because we knew that she cared,” Gordon said when talking to WCTV in Tallahassee in a story that can be read HERE. “It was the little things she brought to us, being a mother away from home. So, I’m the mother hen to all of them.
“They’re my daughters so that unity and that trust that they already have in me makes it easier for them to get out there, feel free and trust the process.”
Gordon was an assistant at Tennessee when Holly Warlick was head coach and was set to join former Lady Vol Jody Adams-Birch at New Mexico State this season as an assistant coach before Florida A&M offered its head coaching job.
She also is remembered as the one Summitt threatened to send back to DeLand on “a raft with a slow leak” after a mix-up in Gordon’s academic status when she was a freshman. The Lady Vols were in Hawaii at the time.
“A very young me and a very mad Pat and a very homesick me that wanted to go home anyway, but it definitely wasn’t a laughing matter in 1985 all those years ago when you’re a freshman and a coach threatens to put you on a raft,” Gordon said in THIS STORY in which she also recounts Summitt banging on her hotel door. “And not just a raft, but a raft with a slow leak in it from Hawaii back to Florida.
“Can you imagine what was going through my mind? I was thinking everything: ‘What did my mama convince me to do? Was this my dream school?’ I had all of that running through my head at the time, but now it’s everybody’s story, and we tell it and we laugh. It was one of those defining moments in my life and my career.”
Simmons, a Tennessee native, will bring the Tigers into Knoxville – the Lady Vols will make a return trip to Memphis next season and play at the FedEx Forum – in a renewal of a matchup that started in 1974 and was last played in 2001.
Simmons won two national titles at Tennessee in 2007 and 2008 and also served as a team captain.
In a promotional video for the 2008 Final Four, the players provided their best imitation of Summitt.
Simmons nailed it with: “Is it that you don’t want to play defense or you can’t play defense?”
The exchange in the 54-second video between Summitt and Shannon Bobbitt also is worth a look. Summitt had been shielded from the play when Bobbitt got a technical – it was the Tennessee-Rutgers game and the trash talking was always legendary when those teams met – and an official explained it to her.
As the realization of what happened on the court comes across Summitt’s face, the official bolted as quickly as he could.
Former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike also was on that team with Simmons. Now the new athletic director at Girls Inc. of Tennessee Valley, Anosike has teamed up with Simmons and Harper for a special event called “Two Sides, One State” on Nov. 12 the day before the Tennessee vs. Memphis game to raise awareness for the nonprofit’s fledgling basketball program.
From 3-5 p.m. at Fulton High School, kids ages 8-14 can participate in basketball drills and contests led by Harper, Simmons and the Tennessee and Memphis players. Camp fee is $10, and registration is available HERE or by scanning the QR code on the image.
Anosike also continues to provide basketball training for middle and high school girls and will hold a season kickoff camp this Sunday, Oct. 15, at Triple F located at 4900 Guinn Road in the Solway community in Knox County. Details and signup are available HERE.
Current Tennessee basketball player Avery Strickland, who this site wrote about HERE, also will be a guest coach.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.