When the Vols win, players, coaches, team managers, fans and the University of Tennessee all celebrate the “Big Orange” way.
However, there’s another group celebrating by heading to the basketball court.
“They’re teaching me, honestly. I am inspired by how they are working together. It makes me want to follow in their footsteps,” said Devon Thomas, a senior at Bearden High School.
Thomas, like his peers, spends multiple days a week playing basketball at the West Side YMCA. Thomas has been playing 5-on-5 pickup with the same team since “before he can remember,” and it shows.
Most days of the week, YMCA gyms around Knoxville are filled with young players practicing their basketball skills, many, with dreams of making it a career.
“I know I’m not the best player, I know I have a lot to work on, but I’m just trying to get to the level and learn from,” said Thomas.
Like the other teams at the YMCA, most of Thomas’ friends have dreams of playing college basketball. Living in the same city as the University of Tennessee only helps.
“I just want to play college, because once you’re in college then you can work from college to the NBA, once you’re in college is there,” said Elijah Collett, a freshman at Bearden High School.
Collett’s dream is to play point guard, inspired by UT’s standout, Grant Williams.
“Sometimes I go back and watch what he does and I try to repeat those moves just to try to see what he does whenever someone is guarding and make those moves,” said Collett.
Collett says he spends upwards of 40 hours a week playing basketball, Thomas says “whenever he has free time”, the same goes for their friends playing next to them. They have spent hours practicing, hoping that one day they’ll be on a team like Tennessee’s.
“They play so well together, they got some fun players like Schofield. It inspires me to play more to get like them in the future,” said Jeremy Ellison, a junior at Carter High School.
Whether it’s a win or a loss, these local teens say they’re inspired by the success of Vols hoops, citing the team as a reason they’ll keep “putting it all on the court” at the YMCA.