They could have left.
Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor had guys in their ears (as did John Jenkins) talking about the NBA, about first round picks, about the kind of money that makes it a lot easier to develop your game in a pro environment without the hassle and inconvenience of classes or having to worry about what your share of the bill was. They had track records and stats and the promise of a bright future. They didn't have to come back.
Except they did come back. Because they felt they had to. And that tells you about the character of this team, of these guys that we've lived and died with for four years.
I didn't see a lot of that first season in 08-09, because I knew it was a huge reloading year and I figured I could wait patiently (and I was still recoiling from the Siena fiasco) but when the Dores came through St Mary's in November of '09, I had to go see the show. What I expected to see was AJ and Dolla Beal wilding out and John Jenkins being a freshman sensation. What I got was Jeffrey Taylor, who I described after the game as "the deadliest-shooting 44 in the Bay Area since Dirty Harry Callahan hung it up."
Well, you know the rest. Big wins and bigger heartbreak and a team that keeps marching up the school's all-time charts...but no NCAA tournament wins yet. These guys have an unfinished line on the resume that they weren't going to leave blank. But I think they also just wanted one more year to ride together, which is why Jeffrey Taylor was tearing up on ESPN last night (and why I was blubbering like a sorority girl on Bid Night).
This time last year, don't forget, we were wargaming what this season would look like without Ezili, Taylor and Jenkins, and it wasn't pretty. But our guys all used the words "unfinished business" when they came back, and it's a damn good thing they did...because in the words of Jim Ross, business is about to pick up.
Go Dores. Sink the Vols.