As Houston Fancher watched youngsters take part in day one of a Tennessee men's basketball summer camp, it took him back to his own childhood when he was in their shoes.
"I think it's a really neat experience," Fancher said. "I can remember growing up having an opportunity to come to camp and be involved in things at UT as a young boy. I can remember the memories — recall the memories — of the times spent here and it's stuff that's indelible. You never forget this stuff."
But as unforgettable as attending a UT camp can be, last year's men's basketball season was just as unforgettable, for the wrong reasons.
Fancher, who is in his third season with UT, was named interim head coach after Bruce Pearl and his assistant coaches were let go on March 21. Fancher was retained by new coach Cuonzo Martin and given the role of director of basketball operations.
Fancher, along with Mark Pancratz, who was hired by Martin in mid-June as the director of video scouting, are the two hold-overs from last year's coaching staff.
"I'm thankful that Coach Martin saw fit to keep me and Mark around," Fancher said. "We're both still thankful to be involved with the University of Tennessee, and still grateful to be here. There's no other way to put it, but at the same time, we feel obligated to come out here and do our job on a daily basis.
"Now that he has chosen to keep us, the past is always the past, and it will remain the past, so we're more interested in the present and future so we're moving forward, doing the things he's asked us to do and try to build a program in the direction he wants it to go."
For Pancratz, the opportunity to stay with the Vols was a "huge blessing."
"It meant the world to me," he said. "I've been here five years, and Knoxville is where I call home right now. My wife's from here, I had my first daughter here, I got my master's (degree) here, so it's become a huge part of my life. The Vol nation and the Knoxville community is just a great place to be, and I'm so thankful to continue to be here."
During the nearly three months of not knowing where he was going to continue his coaching career, Pancratz and his family were prepared to leave Knoxville.
"When we got let go here, I didn't know what I was going to do," he said. "My family got packed up, ready to go, just 'cause in coaching, when you take a job — as soon as you take it — you're all into it. Whether it was here or somewhere else, my family was packed up and ready to go just to see wherever that opportunity was going to be."
But he credits one person in particular as the reason he's still at UT.
"I really don't think I'd be here without Coach Fancher," Pancratz said. "He's been a huge mentor towards me. He's one of the best people I've ever known. The relationship with the players, our relationship with them is important. Mine and Coach Fancher's biggest jobs is to handle a lot of the administrative stuff so that the coaching staff can hit the road recruiting right away and bring them up to speed on current SEC opponents, our current roster, things like that. I think it was important, but I think it's also Coach (Martin) kept us both because of what we stand for."
While the two will work in more of a behind-the-scenes role going forward, their ability to help bridge the gap between the players on the team and the new coaches on the staff has been crucial.
"Yeah, we're doing that," Fancher said. "They (new coaches) are getting that now. Having been here for a while, getting to develop their own image of the players, if you will, and they make their own evaluations. But initially, they all asked, 'How is Renaldo (Woolridge)? How is Cam (Tatum)? Tell me about "Jordy" (Jordan McRae).'"
Fancher said during the week he was the interim coach, his focus was solely on the players to make sure they didn't feel any of the burden.
"I didn't do a whole lot," he said. "I just did sort of ... I met the kids' needs, and I think that was the most important thing, that we made sure they weren't sacrificed during the transition. That they weren't forgotten about in that period until we got a new coach because, obviously, insecurity sets in when you lose a coach and you don't know who your next coach is going to be, and they need somebody to turn to, somebody to talk to, and they came to me, they came to my house. We sat and talked and made sure everything was going to be O.K., Tennessee basketball's going to be fine.
"That was the biggest part, I felt like: the transition from the old coach to the new coach, just making sure the players weren't sacrificed or that they got all their needs met. To me that was the most important thing I was going to have to do: that we took care of the players."
With more than two decades in coaching, including 12 years as a head coach, most recently at Appalachian State, Fancher understands coaching changes happen often, especially in college basketball. That experience has made getting acclimated to Martin and his staff an easier transition.
"I've been doing this a long time. This will be my 25th year in the business, and the thing I've enjoyed about this new staff is they're young, they're energetic and they're hard-working. You build relationships with people you work with on a daily basis, obviously, and to lose some guys off the last staff and have new guys coming in, it just seems to be part of our business, part of our profession."
Pancratz, on the other head, doesn't have years of coaching experience like Fancher, but related Martin in a different way.
"We've been working closely together," he said. "We have some similarities in both being Illinois guys and just the kind of things he looks for and stands for, I look for and stand for. Just the way he goes about doing things I really like. I think he's a great coach. He's been there, done that, whether it was playing in the NBA, he won at the highest level in the Big Ten (at Purdue as a player and assistant coach), won when he was at Missouri State, and that's not going to change when he gets here."
But what has changed for Pancratz is the absence of Pearl, under whom he played for four years at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and later followed to Knoxville to begin his coaching career as a graduate assistant.
"It was tough," Pancratz said. "Coach Pearl, he gave me this opportunity and I'm forever appreciative of that. Those other guys, Coach (Jason) Shay I've known for nine years, so it was hard. But now, it's an experience you learn from and definitely one that I've put behind me, but also refer to as a learning experience."
— Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MattDixon3.