By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With the 2021-22 basketball season inching closer each day, Tennessee Tech head men's basketball coach John Pelphrey addressed the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce at the Leslie Town Centre during its monthly Breakfast Before Hours event Thursday morning, giving the group some insight into the upcoming campaign.
"I'm really happy about our guys and they're working hard, Pelphrey expressed. "I'm very appreciative of them and their belief in the way we want to go about doing things. Our whole deal is, we're right on time. We're very excited about this season. We can't wait for the games. There's been a lot of heavy lifting going on for the last two years, not only with building a basketball team and a program, but also dealing with a lot of challenges you all have had to deal with as well. It's just been a different, different time. And that's okay. We're not afraid and we look forward to taking it on. I'm very proud of our young men."
Over his first two seasons at the helm of the Golden Eagle program, Pelphrey and his staff have worked building a lasting culture in Cookeville, one that has begun to blossom with this year's team.
"We have 10 guys coming back to our team who have been here and believe what is going on with leadership, books, ball, and professionalism," explained Pelphrey. "We talk about it every single day. I'm extremely excited about their commitment to us, their commitment to Tech, and how they go about operating on a daily basis.
"We have seven new guys coming in; five transfers, one high school player, and one walk-on. The cool thing about our basketball team is, the 10 coming back not only see themselves getting better, but they're also humble enough to say, 'You know what Coach, we need some other people to come in and help.' And for the first time ever, we've had people in the program who can model behavior and set a standard of work and how to go about doing it."
Pelphrey added, "The acclamation of our new guys has been really good with the onboarding and the helping them understand how we operate and how we do things. You don't go to school, you don't practice. You don't practice, it's gonna be kind of hard to play. When it's a player-run program, it's really, very powerful. So we're excited about that and just looking forward to having the opportunity to practice here a little bit more."
With the season rapidly approaching, Pelphrey talked about where the team is at and a little about the challenges of the 2020-21 campaign.
"We have a scrimmage game coming up a week from Sunday," Pelphrey said. "It's here. Basketball season is upon us and we're excited about that. We need games to find out how much progress we've made and where we need to get better. We're getting better on the court. I know we are. I get excited every single day to go to practice and to be around these young men. It's all about people and we try to collect as many good people as we can. It starts there. I get great energy from being around these guys every single day.
"I think it's going to be a team you enjoy watching as well. We have 17 guys and that's great. Last year was very challenging, not only with COVID, but we had six significant injuries, all among scholarship players. We finished the season with seven scholarship guys over seven weeks, and that's challenging, but I'm really proud of them, because when it got its hardest for us, we actually got better. That reveals your character."
The Kentucky Hall of Famer and All-American expressed how this year's squad has a unique feel to it, one that has just energized him and the staff at a new level.
"There have been a few times in my coaching career where it just felt different," Pelphrey expressed. "Maybe you've had this experience yourself, when you're in an environment where everyone is on the same page, you have deep-rooted relationships, you kind of understand a little bit about them, and they kind of get you. That's where we are right now.
"These guys want it so bad and when you have a group of guys you've so heavily invested in like that, you find yourself wanting it really bad for them. Not that we don't always show up prepared and on time, but there's just something a little bit more for me right now. I've experienced this once or twice, and we're very determined to make sure we do all of our necessary preparations and get ready to help these guys be their best when their best is needed."
The purple and gold will provide its first glimpse of the year for fans in a 7:30 p.m. CT exhibition tilt with Berea on Thursday, Oct. 28 as part of Purple Palooza. The Golden Eagles will officially kick off the new slate with its season opener at Memphis on Tuesday, Nov. 9 and return to Cookeville for its home opener on Sunday, Nov. 14 against Oakwood.
"When you look over our schedule, there are a lot of challenges on there, especially starting in our non-conference," explained Pelphrey, "but we're looking forward to it. We're going to need you. We're going to need the Hooper Eblen Center full of fans that show up and are loud. There's something different about college basketball. You have an impact on the game. It's just a reality. I know as a former player and as a coach, the fans give your team extra energy, a stick-to-it-iveness for a little bit longer. You also have an influence on the other team. And you can certainly have an impact on those guys that wear the striped shirts. We need you."
Season tickets for Tennessee Tech men's basketball are now on sale. To order, call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUSports.com.
Photo by Thomas Corhern