Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nashville Sports Council speakers lunch

The star-backlit stage, line dancing floor and honky-tonk atmosphere of the Wildhorse Saloon was transformed into a sports talk paradise earlier today as head coaches from the SEC and Big East spoke to the Nashville community.

The Nashville Sports Council presented the Comcast Spotlight Sports Speakers Series earlier this morning at the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue, and what a delicious event it was. Not only did I get to hear four outstanding coaches speak, but the food wasn’t half bad either.

After strolling into an unfamiliar setting – I’ve only been to this line dancing-palooza on the weekends or for a show (the Gin Blossoms rocked that place two summers ago) – I was greeted with the image of Bruce Pearl in his gray UT sweat suit and the intoxicating aroma of free food.

Naturally, I headed toward the meal, which was just as good as the Gin Blossoms performance awhile back, and waited to hear Pearl, Kevin Stallings, Buzz Williams, Marquette head basketball coach, and Stan Heath, South Florida head coach, speak.

The Nashville Sports Council used this event to create publicity for tonight’s SEC/BIG EAST Invitational pairing Vanderbilt vs. USF and Tennessee vs. Marquette, and these coaches headlined this luncheon special.

ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes introduced the four men, after admitting that he had tried to make it in Nashville as a country singer some years ago (no joke – he really confided that to us), and led a question and answer session with coaches.

Stallings fielded quandaries about his favorite country music song (“It’s hard to kiss the lips at night” by Vince Gill, which he clarified didn’t relate to his personal life at all), and whether he’d rather recruit a post player or a point guard (a point guard, seconded by Coach Heath). He also tackled the debate on how the extended 3-point arc has affected the game this season.

The Vanderbilt coach explained that he couldn’t compare this season’s team with last year’s when it comes to shooting, because of the personnel and style differences (after all, the 2008-09 squad doesn’t have one of VU’s all-time great 3-point shooters, Shan Foster).

Stallings and his counterparts did confide, however, that they have seen teams refuse to guard players taking the shot now, since the distance has created a lower percentage attempt, and that it’s actually harder to penetrate the lane now with defenses refusing to defend the new 3-point line.

VU’s lead man told the audience to look out for A.J. Ogilvy, Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley tonight against USF. He noted that Ogilvy has tried to do too much in the past few contests, and that they’ve worked on focusing his game, while Taylor and Tinsley have produced well in the first nine tilts of their VU careers.

Stallings even addressed an audience member's question about whether North Carolina is unstoppable this season. He testified to the ability of the UNC team and acknowledged that it’ll take the moon and stars lining up correctly to defeat the Tar Heels, and that Roy Williams has really motivated his players to commit 100 percent to his defense.

The highlight of the event, however, actually came from a UT perspective. At one point during the Q/A, Pearl looked at Dykes and asked if the two of them had missed a message or something, since the three other coaches (Stallings, Williams and Heath) all were bald. Everyone got a good laugh out of that.

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