The playoff games may be called the Elite “Eight,” but there are 56 former University of Tennessee basketball Volunteers who feel pretty elite this winter. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of UT basketball, the coaches and promotions department decided to select the All-Century Team -- 15 players chosen as the best who played at UT.
Not an easy choice, so they narrowed the choices to 56 Lettermen -- the best of the best -- and are leaving the job of picking the Top 15 for the All-Century Team to the fans.
One of the names on that elite 56 is former Alcoa High School standout Herman Thompson, who was All-Vol from 1954 to 1957. Herman had 1,319 points during his UT career and was a two-time third team All-SEC honoree.
Thompson, who now lives in Atlanta but comes to Blount County frequently, said he was “shocked” and “honored” when he got the letter telling him he was one of the 56 finalists.
“I was quite honored,” Thompson said. “I was just honored to be on the list with players like Ernie (Grunfeld) and Bernie (King), Dale Ellis, Allan Houston, plus some of the old-timers I remember like Paul Walther and Carl Widseth. I played all four years for Coach Emmett Lowery.”
In high school, Thompson played for Coach Vernon Osborne. One particular game during Thompson’s senior year was a particularly outstanding one.
It was the Maryville/Alcoa game and Maryville was winning. Matter of fact, with a minute and a half to go in that 1953 ballgame, Thompson’s Alcoa Tornadoes were down 7 points.
This was before any three-shot rules. The Tornadoes were looking at doing it the hard way.
In those 90 seconds, Thompson scored 8 points to win the game. “It was very exciting,” Thompson said.
Sitting in the Maryville stands that night, routing for her Rebels was Peggy Watts. She didn’t know the hot-shooter who stole the Rebel’s victory that night. She met him that summer, though, at the Alcoa pool.
That was 1953. They married on March 15, 1957, and will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary this year.
One of the reasons the Thompsons keep the road warm between their home in Atlanta and Maryville is their involvement in the Tim Bledsoe Memorial Golf Tournament. Both Herman and Peggy work tirelessly for the tournament, which is not only to honor Tim Bledsoe, but is a major fund raiser for the Alcoa City Schools Foundation.
So it won’t be any trouble to fit in a trip to UT for the All-Century Team festivities. The honoress are invited to a dinner on Friday, Feb.13, and the nominees have tickets to the Saturday game against Vanderbilt where the All-Century team will be announced.
“We’ll be here,” Thompson said. “Coach Pearl has done an outstanding job of putting all this together, and whether I’m chosen or not, we wouldn’t miss it.”
To vote for the All-Century team:
All Century Team Fans will be able to vote for the greatest players in UT Basketball history until Feb. 1 in the following ways:
1. Tennessee Basketball Bruce Pearl standees with All Century Team ballot attached at the Coca-Cola and Food City displays and First Tennessee Bank locations (97 stores and banks in East Tennessee beginning in December)
2. Online at UTSPORTS.com. Click on the 100th Anniversary icon.