Monthly Archives: September 2013

A quick goodbye note to Knoxville and East Tennessee …

My dearest Knoxville,
Sitting down to write this letter, I first asked esteemed colleague Evan Woodbery if a goodbye letter, given the brevity of my stay – 23 months in East Tennessee; 14 here in Knoxville – would be, perhaps, a tad self-important.

Woodbery, as he’s won’t to do, offered clear-eyed perspective. He, being a whole three years older than me, is weathered and wise.

Woodbery’s offering: “As long as it’s not written in a self-important manner, then it’s not self-important.”

So there’s the goal.

Having spent the last week-plus looking back on the bizarre series of events that took me from A to B to Z, back to C, then to R and G and finally to Tennessee, I felt compelled to thank you — you, whoever you are, who is reading this. Because if you’re reading this, you either know me or worked with me or read my ramblings or followed me on social media — and whichever one you are, you helped me find my footing.

To keep this particular ramble at a reasonable length, trust that the 10-count on my career had reached nine when, in August 2011, I decided to take a flier on a job at a startup website in Chattanooga. At age 28, I had been freelancing for almost three years, eating letdown after letdown from newspapers all over the country — always declining, but never hitting rock-bottom. Rent was paid from my cash tips, despite my status as the worst bartender in Philadelphia.

But Barry Large, Ted Alling and Adam Green at decided to take a chance. They hired me as sports editor and I told my friends and family in Philly, “This is it. I’m taking one more stab at it. I’ll give this one year. If it doesn’t work, I’ll come back and figure something out.”

Nine months later I left Chattanooga and accepted the men’s basketball beat writer job at the Knoxville News Sentinel. Fourteen months after that, I accepted the Michigan men’s basketball beat writer job at MLive.

Bizarre, yes.

So now I’m off to Ann Arbor; a bittersweet departure. My time in both Chattanooga and Knoxville was wonderful, both personally and professionally. And regardless of what happens moving forward, I’ll always remember and be thankful for East Tennessee paving the pivot point I spent most of my twenties looking for. 

East Tennessee became a home I never anticipated. Despite y’all belittling my accent, my clothes and my disposition, I loved this place — Knoxville in particular.

I won’t go one-by-one naming everyone who made my time at the News Sentinel as special as it was. You know you who you are, and if you don’t, I will likely tell you over a beer before I leave. Except for John Adams. John, you did little for me, and, in fact, probably served as a detriment. Woodbery, too, for that matter. Actually, all of you, except Mike Strange.

To the readers (Vol fans), thanks for the interaction, the feedback and the passion with which you demand quality coverage. You may or may not agree, but I believe I became a better beat writer by working to meet your expectations. I would describe the Tennessee fan base, for the most part, as having a “leveled insanity” seen few other places in America. That’s a compliment.

To Cuonzo Martin and the Tennessee basketball program, thanks for two seasons of admirable access and always being willing to work with me. We butted heads a few times, but the good far, far outweighed the bad. Best of luck in 2013-14.

And to any bar in Knoxville that I may have an outstanding open tab, please forward it along to:
Gerald Witt
2332 News Sentinel Dr.
Knoxville, TN 37921

That’s all. Thanks for the memories, Knoxville. I love yous.


The story of Jeronne Maymon, SoCo the boa constrictor, Gus Manning and a film student from Knoxville

Too dramatic? Over wrought with hyperbole? Way, way over the top?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And because of all that, Tennessee’s new video feature staring Jeronne Maymon is solid gold.

The first in a series of mini music videos aimed at churning the UT fanbase’s preseason excitement, the above Maymon video is not your average production from a university sports information department or public relations wing.

It includes the following: Maymon posing with a 7-foot Red Tail Sun Glow Boa Constrictor, Gus Manning reading a revised version of Johnny Cash’s spoken-word piece “Mean As Hell” and dramatic footage from the boiler room of Thompson-Boling Arena.

Added together, the video has the emotional nuance of a gong shot.

But how did this all to come to be?

UT sports information director Tom Satkowiak (@TomSatkowiak) said Tuesday he wanted to create a series of these videos that include “an aspect of each guy’s personality.” Not surprisingly, the debut video, which dropped Monday and now has over 3,300 views, addressed Maymon’s year-long rehabilitation from a litany of knee problems.

Back when the video was just a brainstorm, Satkowiak mentioned to former Vol Sylar McBee that he was looking for a talented film student to work with. McBee mentioned a classmate, Conner Harville (@ConHarv), and connected the two. Harville is a Knoxville native from Bearden and a UT senior studying film.

Satkowiak broke it to Harville that he couldn’t offer any money, but said Harville could include his name on the video as director and make a valuable addition to his portfolio. The pitch worked. Harville jumped onboard. The two got to work, along with UT graduate assistant Nate Bain.

Next came the issue of how to secure a giant snake. Satkowiak wanted to include a live serpent in the video to conceptualize Maymon’s injury and struggle. He took his search to Twitter and after a few dominoes dropped, he was contacted by WBIR’s Kris Budden (now of Fox Sports fame), who recounted doing a story on odd pets. She told Satkowiak that Kyle Sanders, the boyfriend of Lady Vol softball star Madison Shipman, owns two huge boa constrictors.

(Seems oddly easy to secure a 7-foot snake nowadays, no?)

Of the two boas – one named SoCo, the other named Lime (COLLEGE!) – SoCo was selected because of an edge in length. Maymon, ever-imposing at 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, was not keen about a boa slithering along his shoulders (pssh, it’s non-poinonous). He was scared, as any normal person would be. Satkowiak, playing the role of Paul Serone, was in charge of keeping the snake away from Maymon’s face.

Everyone survived the film shoot.

Keeping with his snake-devil-injury theme, Satkowiak then rewrote portions of Cash’s “Mean As Hell” – a ballad of God bestowing the desert to the devil to make it hell. Among Satkowiak’s edits …

“Many years past and he let the kid be, then we he needed it most, he struck his left knee.”

“So when did the devil lose control of it all? As soon as he challenged the heart of a Vol.”

Gus Manning  (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

Gus Manning (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

Needing a narrator with penetrating pipes, Satkowiak then called on Gus Manning. As one would expect, the legend killed it.

So with Manning narrating, clips of Maymon playing and Cash’s “Ain’t No Grave,” the film’s leitmotif, dipping in and out, Harville delivers quiet the video montage.

Then comes some quick highlights of Maymon pre-knee injury and him flexing in the Thompson-Boling Arena boiler room. All the while, Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” thumps in the background.

The video concludes with three words: HE … IS … BACK.

Subtle? No. Awesome? Yes.


Postscript: Satkowiak said UT fans can expect the next video sometime around Sept. 15. Asked which player will be featured, he said, “I can’t spoil that.” I’m thinking Jarnell Stokes arm-wrestling a polar bear or Jordan McRae using a wasp nest as a speed bag. 

Leron Black off the board, Vols now eye Kevon Looney and Sept. 21 visit

News of White Station (Tenn.) High School power forward Leron Black’s commitment to Illinois on Saturday morning wasn’t exactly a surprise, but that didn’t lessen the sting for Tennessee.

The Vols had Black slated for a Sept. 28 official visit to Knoxville. A UT home football game against South Alabama was on the docket.

That’s all changed. Black, having visited Illinois this weekend, committed to Illini coach John Groce on Sunday morning, thus cancelling his trip to Knoxville and additional scheduled official visits to Baylor and Indiana.

Now all orange eyes are trained on five-star Milwaukee, Wis., forward Kevon Looney. The KNS confirmed on Sunday that Looney has an official visit scheduled to Knoxville on the weekend of Sept. 21 – a non-football weekend for Tennessee.

Even with the scheduled visit, the Vols are still considered a long shot to land Looney. He’s long been considered a heavy lean to Duke, where he’ll visit next weekend, and he’s also considering Michigan State, UCLA, Wisconsin and Florida, where he visited this weekend.

Looney is ranked as 2014′s No. 11 overall recruit in the 247Composite, which equally weighs prospect rankings and ratings from major recruiting media outlets. He is ranked as the No. 3 small forward in the nation.

UT currently holds four 2014 verbal commitments. The most recent came on Aug. 18 from Madison, Ga., power forward CJ Turman, who is ranked No. 147 overall in the 247Composite ranking. He joined point guard Larry Austin (No. 100), shooting guard Jordan Cornish (130) and power forward Philip Cofer (134) as top-150 players pledged to Tennessee. All four are rated as four-star prospects by ESPN.