Tennessee Tech basketball coach Mike Sutton, his wife, Karen, and members of their extended Golden Eagles’ basketball family gathered for a make-shift Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night.
“We just had a little turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie on the way to Lawrence — at Cracker Barrel (at) exit 10, I-29,” Sutton said just after 8 p.m., Thursday. “Your options are limited on Thanksgiving. Not many places are open,” Sutton added.
He wasn’t complaining.
Not at all, despite the fact his team has been on what he calls “an NBA-type schedule” with tonight’s game at Kansas University the Eagles’ seventh in the last 13 days.
“There’s a lot to be thankful for regardless of where you are. Our kids are understanding of that,” Sutton said of the 3-3 Golden Eagles, who won at the University of Southern Utah, 72-65, on Wednesday night and have also claimed victories at Lipscomb (92-89) and Central Arkansas (71-67) with losses at Minnesota (87-50) and Memphis (92-59) to go with a home loss to Oakland (77-56).
“We are all blessed in a variety of ways. When you feel you are not blessed, you always find someone not as fortunate as you. The nature of college basketball is traveling through the holidays. I can’t remember the last time I was back home for Thanksgiving in coaching. We’re fortunate we’ll have some down time this year for Christmas,” Sutton added.
Sutton, a former Kentucky assistant who is beginning his eighth season at the Cookeville, Tenn., school, is quite thankful for many things — most notably his health.
Sutton, 53, was stricken with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in April of 2005, shortly after his team won the Ohio Valley Conference championship. He spent April to November in the hospital where he was paralyzed.
Yet he made a remarkably quick recovery and was back on the sidelines for the 2005-06 season.
“When all you can do is blink your eyes ... it’s a long ways from that,” Sutton said of his current state in which he is mobile.
“I progressed from paralyzed to a wheelchair to a walker. Now I use a cane most of the time,” Sutton explained. “I can sit on the sidelines. Again the glass is half full instead of empty.”
As far as tonight’s test ... Sutton sees it as a great opportunity for a team led by 6-6 sophomore Kevin Murphy and 6-2 senior Frank Davis, who average 15.3 and 10.4 ppg respectively.
“As the people around Kansas understand, this is the cradle of basketball,” Sutton said. “I was at Kentucky. I grew up in North Carolina. Our game’s history is so embedded at what happened at the University of Kansas.
“They call Miami of Ohio the cradle of football coaches. Kansas ... with Dr. (Phog) Allen, Dr. (James) Naismith, coach (Dean) Smith, (Adolph) Rupp ... there are all kinds of connections to Kansas basketball. It’s an amazing thing that never gets discussed enough. College basketball is a multi-million dollar industry. There are a lot of ties back to Lawrence, Kansas.”
This current KU team is hoping for its place in KU history.
“We’re playing the No. 1 team in the country and they are well deserving,” Sutton said. “They have two legitimate All-Americans (Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich) and others who are potential All-Americans. They play hard and they defend. Nobody is close to seeing their best basketball yet. It’ll be late January or February before people see what kind of team they are. They are already very good, but we’ll see how good they can be later on.”