How I spent my summer vacation

I wasn’t quite sure how to start this but I think there should be a disclaimer at the top that this is a Serious Post. If this is scary and not what you come to my site for, you can exit the tab and it will be fine.

A lot of people have asked about my plans for the 2021-22 season. I’ve held off on giving firm answers for a while now, simply because I didn’t really know what my plans were, either. I wasn’t quite sure if I would still write about Tennessee basketball at some points during the offseason. I don’t enjoy being pigeonholed into any one subject but, undeniably, I am at least acceptable on this very specific one.

The answer is that, for another season, I’m still writing about Tennessee basketball and will be for the foreseeable future. It will be on this website and will be in the same general format. There will be tweaks that are explored later on in this post. I will get games right and wrong again. That answers the first question.

The second question, and one I still don’t have an answer for, is the rest of those plans: the non-basketball ones. Life has become busier than it has been in years. My wife and I are trying to buy a reasonably-priced house in the most unreasonable housing market in modern history. I no longer work in an office, yet am busier than I ever was in that office despite being full-time WFH. I ran two half-marathons this year and didn’t die so I’m stupid enough to want to do more of them. The amount of free time I had even two years ago is dwindling at speeds I hadn’t foreseen when I began writing. And, because these things never go away, I still battle depression and anxiety from time to time, even when things are going well for me career-wise.

My basketball work has shifted a bit as well. Most people reading know that I worked with Jimmy Dykes at ESPN over the back half of the most recent basketball season and that said work was used in the SEC Tournament. That led to a couple of opportunities this offseason I’d prefer to keep private. Along with that, I just completed the largest project I’ve ever worked on before, Eight Games. Collectively thanks to these events, I was led to reconsider why I do the work I do and for what specific reasons I want to do it.

As such, I’ve decided to make a few changes. I’m still doing Tennessee basketball previews under the title of Show Me My Opponent for another season, but I’m going to do things somewhat differently as well.

I won’t be interacting on Twitter this year. Well, mostly. If I follow your account, I’ll see your reply or quote-tweet, so I guess I can interact that way. This is a personal policy I instituted for myself after I spent almost all of September entirely off of social media and felt mentally healthier than I had since COVID life began. One negative online interaction has the capability to send my brain and mindset spiraling for hours at a time. This sounds horrible, and it is. I realize that normal brains don’t work in that fashion, but mine isn’t normal and never has been. (Hello, fellow neurodiverse people.)

Last season, there was a sort of crisis point sometime in February (when Tennessee’s games became less exciting and more frustrating) where I entertained the idea of stopping the Show Me My Opponent series. All it was doing to me mentally was causing me to be frustrated, battle with other people online, and eventually start muting people I know in real life because I was tired of their opinions. I love doing these previews but began to genuinely despise 90% of interactions with words that they drive. I still have not progressed to a point where I feel anything other than depression when I see anything other than a hyper-positive reply. (By the way, read all of that and realize how tame my mentions are in comparison to the average woman’s.)

I realized towards the end of last season that literally all of this was being driven by Twitter. I don’t post these on Facebook or Instagram because the format feels ill-fitting. I do have a couple of more private outlets I interact with, but I’m not there refreshing the page every minute. I really do love writing these previews and investing my spare time into them; I just greatly dislike the main page of the Internet I’m posting them on. I know the Tyler The Creator log-off tweet applies here but it isn’t how my brain works; I delete the app and then all I do is just type into the URL on Safari. The black screen has sucked so much of my life away, and I have to regain it before I can’t any longer.

So: in an attempt to stabilize my brain and ensure my mental health is in a good state from November to April, I probably will not reply to anyone’s questions or or attempts at a humorous interaction. If it actually requires a response, email statsbywill at gmail.

The previews have some new additions. Eliminated is the KenPom depth chart section at the end; in is a more graphic-design-friendly piece that shows the starting five, some key metrics, and the rotation pieces. The offensive and defensive sections will also look a hair different. Both will have a statistical summary of each side of the ball for the opponent just so the reader has something to refer back to.

I am also doing something moderately unusual: putting a cap on GIFs. My goal is to have no more than ten in any post and to only use them to accentuate a point. To be honest, the GIFs have become kind of an annoyance for me. They’ve served their purpose for several years now, but I don’t know that anyone is really going to my site to watch 24 different GIFs of Missouri’s offense and defense. Also, Synergy has finally removed my account’s multi-game shot chart access after four years of uninterrupted use for…reasons. (I reached out to them multiple times and never got the same answer on how much more I’d have to pay to get that access. All I know is I pay $5 more than I did four years ago to get less stuff than I did then.)

I’m going to counterbalance this by working on more charts/graphs/still images to get the point across. Those take less time to create, along with less brain power. The hope is that this year, you get more data and a solid amount of video without sacrificing the strengths that the two provide.

There will also be a loose cap on how long the previews are. I’ve noticed that over the last three years, these have slowly graduated from roughly a 2,000-word average to nearly 3,000 last season, which is honestly too much for most people to keep track of from start-to-finish. I’ll try and keep it a little shorter this year; only the very, very important games will crack 3K.

Each ‘week’ of the season will have its own recap. I’m admitting to stealing the game recap idea from Brian at mgoblog, who has written so many over the years I’ve utterly adored (this is a recent favorite) that have been a massive influence on my own writing. Their general goal is to have a recap for every game. Mine is a bit more modest: during the season, you’ll see a weekly recap of that week’s action. This is meant as a fix for two things I started to take issue with:

  1. No one else is really doing that style of game recap in the Knoxville market;
  2. I got in the bad habit of putting my personal recaps in the How Tennessee Matches Up section of SMMO, which makes it less clear as to how Tennessee matches up with the opponent in question.

Some weeks are going to have more action than others. For instance, Tennessee currently has three weeks on their schedule featuring only one game, which would make it a little pointless to call it a weekly recap. My basic fix here is a really simple one: I’m counting every two games as their own ‘week,’ meaning when Tennessee plays Tennessee Tech on November 26 (Friday) and Presbyterian on November 30 (Tuesday), that’s one week of basketball. This should result in 16 true recaps during the course of the season. (I think it probably makes sense to leave Tennessee’s SEC opener versus Alabama as its own recap.)

To recap the recap, this means that from roughly December to March (and possibly further), you should see a minimum of three posts per week on this website.

Because of this, it’s probably unlikely that I’ll get to write publicly about non-Tennessee basketball happenings. I would like to, and I hate that I don’t have the time to…but I simply don’t have the time to. This is another sanity move.

Thanks for following along for another season. The season preview for 2021-22 Tennessee men’s basketball comes out on Thursday. I hope it is good. This will be the fourth-straight season in which I have done the Show Me My Opponent series and, in November, I will crack 100 consecutive games previewed. That is a nice, round number that is mostly meaningless but does mean a little to me.

Here is what I did on my six-month summer vacation:

  • Ran a half-marathon in Louisville, KY (1:55:22) then did another just over five months later in Knoxville (2:07:17). The one in Knoxville was 23 degrees warmer, rained half the time, and held right at 100% humidity most of the way. I’ve started looking up half-marathons in Canada as a protest.
  • Went to Florida. Twice.
  • Did not go to Michigan. Very disappointed to share this.
  • Bought 20 pounds of apples from an apple truck literally called The Apple Truck in front of a Best Buy.
  • Cancelled my monthly-recurring Zoom subscription.
  • Made 23 threes in a row at the gym one day in August and have not cracked double-digits since.

See you on Thursday.

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