Faith, hope and love.

Coming of age in any time period is difficult. It is the continual disruption of routines brought about by changes in employment, break-ups, disasters and uncertainty. Growing up is getting it wrong until you get it right. But navigating adolescence and young adulthood in today’s America comes with a unique set of challenges.

My generation was raised, as were those before it, to have faith in certain institutions. However, unlike previous generations we have uniquely watched those same previously untouchable societal bowers crumble and corrupt under the onslaught of time. We were taught about the importance and sanctity of marriage. But in the world of dating apps and rampant divorce, that institution has taken some hits. We have seen civility and integrity in our political discourse reach an all-time low. The FBI, the media, and the leadership of both political parties have bottomed out in terms of the public trust. The #MeToo movement has shocked us, as we watched many of our respected heroes revealed to be power crazed predators. The social justice war has redefined the rules of comedy and set a moving target of acceptable norms with which we struggle to keep up. Put frankly, the generation raised on Disney movies grew up to find that Snow White is promiscuous and Simba’s head is mounted on somebody’s wall.

It is for these reasons that watching the 2018-2019 Tennessee Volunteers Men’s Basketball team is so enjoyable. On the surface, that probably sounds silly to some. It is just a sports team, after all, but this team is special. Not in the sense that Mel Kiper would call DJ Metcalf special because he can run a sub 4.4 40 yard dash at 6’4″. There is an intangible quality about this team that even the casual observer can not ignore.

There is not a single top 150 recruit on a basketball team that won 19 straight contests, the majority of which were in conference play. That in and of itself mandates an ESPN 30 for 30. They are under sized and out athleted every time they step on the floor, yet they play the game so well as a cohesive unit, there has never been an instance where they looked like they were outclassed.

Throw in their castaway coach, Rick Barnes, and the story really gets sweet. Barnes was an icon in Texas basketball, serving as the head coach of the Longhorns for 17 seasons before he was let go for his inability to win the big one. The sports world saw Barnes as over the hill, past his prime. For this reason he fell to lowly Tennessee, wrought with scandal and reeling from years of insignificance.

Together, the castaway coach and the unsung high school heroes found a winning formula. But that’s not what this about. There are better basketball teams than this one nearly every year. Winning doesn’t make them special. They’re special because of how they do it.

This is a group of young men, and a coach who unquestionably love each other, and the game. They’re doing things the right way, and winning. The post game dancing, the practical jokes, the off season baptisms – they may be the most lovable sports team I’ve ever come across. They’re a group of earnest and likable young men with the right amount of swagger, lead by the whimsical and wise papaw who’s not afraid to take a switch to them if they take it too far.

As Tennessee continues to win, the blue chippers will start to roll in. The recruiting will get better. The basketball may even get better. But it will never have a team like this again, as long as the game is played. This team is something we can believe in. It’s not perfect, but it is pure. It’s commendable in every way. They are the underdog, supplanting the blue bloods, defying the odds with joy on their faces.

In an era dominated by 18 year old prima-donnas, we have a team of nobodies who go out every week and fight for each other. It is plainly evident how much they love and care about each other, their coach, and the Power T on their chests. I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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