Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 6, 2023

Vols score from downtown with Market Square Madness

Tennessee men’s basketball will once again light up Market Square during Market Square Madness, Oct. 12, 7 p.m. - Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

After COVID led to the cancellation of the annual basketball tipoff event for fans at the University of Tennessee, athletic officials started brainstorming about hosting something more creative.

Thinking outside the box led to them going outside altogether.

Instead of bringing fans inside Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center, the men’s and women’s teams would come to the fans in downtown Knoxville.

Market Square Madness debuted last year with so much success that it’s returning this year “even bigger and better.”

The event, held outdoors in the Market Square area less than 1.5 miles from campus, is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12. The program is set to begin at 7 p.m.. Admission is free. Parking in the Market Square Garage, State Street Garage or Locust Street Garage will be free to access after 6 p.m.

“We wanted to do something cool and unique that had never been done before,” says Jess Roseberry, director of marketing and fan experience for Tennessee Athletics. “Market Square is a really unique area we have here, so we thought why not try to put a court there and bring a tipoff event downtown.”

The inaugural event last year was a bit of a trial run that required several major entities working together months in advance to make it happen.

UT contacted the city of Knoxville to see if it was possible to close down the square and find a day that worked on everyone’s calendar. UT always wants the event to coincide with a football home game weekend so fans can come for something extra if they are traveling to Knoxville.

The Visit Knoxville Sports Commission provided Tennessee with the sport court to use.

The setup starts the night before when UT begins loading and delivering the light and sound equipment. The court is assembled the morning of the event and pieced together like a puzzle.

Players made their entrance last year on an orange carpet as they were introduced to a walkout song of their selection.

Fans watched from around the court, rooftop restaurants and balconies. The players competed in 3-point shooting contests and other skills competitions. Fireworks lit the sky and DJ Sterl kept the crowd hyped.

“We just kind of figured it out as we went how it would work to do it and it all came together. It was pretty awesome,” Roseberry says. “No one had any major expectations last year because it was new, but it exceeded anything we could have hoped for. It all came together seamlessly and it laid a good model for us to use going forward.”

UT has some enhancements planned for this year’s event, including an elevated stage with more lights and video content.

Starting at 6:30 p.m., fans can mingle and take photos with Smokey and members of the Tennessee Spirit Squads, face painting stations will be available and on-court contests will be taking place for prizes.

The Pride of the Southland Band Drumline and the Tennessee dance team will be performing before the players arrive.

“It’s a great way for us to get out in the community when normally the fans come to watch in the arena. This is a unique atmosphere that they are not going to get anywhere else,” Roseberry says. “People don’t really know what to expect and then you get there and see a court in the middle of the square.”

Both of UT’s programs are coming off Sweet 16 runs in the NCAA Tournament.

The Vols return eight players, including Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and point guard Zakai Zeigler, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

The Vols have added two transfers in guards Jordan Gainey (USC Upstate) and Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado), and welcome three true freshmen in guard Cameron Carr and forwards J.P. Estrella and Cade Phillips.

The Lady Vols return nine players, including six who started games a year ago, from a squad that advanced to its first SEC Tournament title game since 2015 and its 41st-consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Forward Rickea Jackson, a first-team All-SEC and All-America Honorable Mention selection, was the SEC’s third-leading scorer last season. Center Tamari Key, who sat out most of last season due to a medical issue, is the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots and triple-doubles.

The Lady Vols have added transfers Jewel Spear (Wake Forest), Destinee Wells (Belmont) and guard/forward Avery Strickland (Pitt).

After last year’s successful debut, UT is hoping even more fans will flock to Market Square and watch the action. It may not take something as dramatic as a pandemic to create a re-imagined event again, but UT will never stop pushing the envelope of what’s possible.

“We like to think big here and ask what we can do to take things to the next level,” Roseberry says. “It’s really cool to do these types of events, and we want to keep doing them, whether that’s stay in Market Square every year or not, I’m not sure. But we are building something cool and hopefully we can keep growing and doing these events.”