Bruce Pearl

Bruce Pearl

Bruce Pearl is leading a major renaissance period in Tennessee basketball history entering his third season as the programís head basketball coach.

UT basketball has been revitalized in terms of fan support, facilities and victories since Pearlís arrival in March 2005.

Vols basketball games have become must-see events during the winter months. In 2006-07, the Vols ranked fourth nationally with an average attendance of 19,661 ó the second-largest total in school history. During Pearlís tenure, attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena has grown by 7,436 fans per game.

The legendary duo of Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld were present for the 2007 Kentucky game as King became the first Tennessee basketball player to have his jersey retired. Prior to the Florida game, Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning delivered the pregame talk to the Vols and, during the first time out, Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt donned a cheerleader's uniform to lead cheers.

As soon as the 2006-07 regular season was completed, a $15 million renovation began on the 20-year-old arena. As part of the first phase of the renovation, which will be completed by the start of the 2007-08 campaign, 32 new luxury suites and 166 side court loge seats will be added. Additionally, a center-hung scoreboard will also be added and the concourse will be refurbished to add updated graphics.

Also scheduled to open in time for the upcoming season is a state-of-the-art practice facility adjoiningThompson-Boling Arena. Named in honor of UT alumnus Larry F. Pratt, the Pratt Pavilion will house two full-size courts ó one each for the menís and womenís basketball teams ó as well as space for an athletic training room, weight room and film study room.

While the physical changes to Thompson-Boling Arena and the new Pratt Pavilion practice facility may be significant, nothing can match the changes on the court for the Vols.

In two seasons at Tennessee, Pearl has led the Vols to an average of 23 wins per year, an SEC Eastern Division title and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. His 46 wins in his first two seasons are five more victories than any other UT coach in his first two seasons.

Pearl has achieved this success while playing in what is regarded as the toughest basketball league in the nation ó the Southeastern Conference. Pearlís 22 SEC wins over the last two years is second only to two-time national champion Floridaís 23 league wins during that time. Only one school in the SEC has a winning record against the Vols since Pearlís arrival.

The Volsí style of play can be described as nothing less than exciting. Tennessee has been one of the highest scoring teams in the nation the last two years, finishing the 2006-07 season ranked ninth nationally with 80.9 points per game. Defense has also been a key ingredient to UTís success as the Vols have led the league in steals in each of the last two years, including a school record 336 pilfers in 2006-07.

A big reason for UTís success under Pearl has been player development. Each player has seen marked improvement under his tutelage, including JaJuan Smith, who saw his scoring improve by 9.5 points per game in his first season under Pearl and then another 5.7 to 15.2 points per game his second year.

Tennesseeís success on the court hasnít come at the expense of academics. Seven members of the basketball team were named to the 2006-07 SEC Winter Academic Honor Roll, including senior Dane Bradshaw, who had received his bachelorís degree in three years and was working on a masterís in sport management while playing his senior season.

Entering the 2006-07 season, Pearl was faced with the challenge of playing one of the most difficult schedules in the nation with a roster that featured six players who had never played in a Division I game and only two players that were taller than 6-foot-7. Despite the young roster, the Vols advanced to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York City and went on a nine-game winning streak that included wins over No. 16 Memphis, No. 15 Oklahoma State and an epic 111-105 victory over Texas in which the Vols rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to defeat the Kevin Durant-led Longhorns.

After a slow start to league play, the Vols went on to win seven of their final eight regular season games. Included in that span were wins over No. 23 Vanderbilt, No. 20 Kentucky, No. 25 Alabama and No. 5 Florida. UTís 10-6 league record not only tied for second in the difficult Eastern Division of the SEC but also tied for second-best overall in the conference.

For the second consecutive year, the Vols received an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 with a school record 121 points against Long Beach State and then an upset of Atlantic Coast Conference co-champion Virginia. In the South Region Semifinal, UT nearly upset top seeded and eventual national runner-up Ohio State but fell 84-85 on a pair of late Buckeye free throws.

The Vols finished the 2006-07 campaign with a 24-11 record ó the second-most wins in school history. UT established single-season team marks for points (2,831), steals (336), assists (546), 3-pointers made (327), 3-pointers attempted (896) and field goal attempts (2,181) along the way. Junior guard Chris Lofton was named SEC Player of the Year after leading the league with 20.8 points per game, and freshmen Wayne Chism, Duke Crews and Ramar Smith were all named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

Pearlís first year at Tennessee began with tempered expectations but finished as one of the best stories in the nation that year.

Prior to the 2005-06 campaign, the Vols were picked to finish fifth out of six teams in the SECís Eastern Division. With a team that had lost two of its top players from the previous season and just one new player added to the rotation, it was no surprise expectations were cautious in Knoxville.

By the end of the season, Tennessee had posted 22 victories and won the SEC Eastern Division title with a 12-4 league record. UT swept its regular season series against four of the other five Eastern Division schools (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Vanderbilt) and was ranked as high as No. 8 by the Associated Press.

Along the way, the honors began pouring in for Pearl. The Sporting News named him its national coach of the year. He was also named USBWA All-District IV Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Naismith Menís College Coach of the Year and the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year.

Pearl was named the 17th coach in Tennessee history on March 28, 2005, in a mid-court ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Before coming to Tennessee, Pearlís success had been described as magical. At Division II Southern Indiana he led the Screaming Eagles to nine NCAA Tournaments, six Sweet 16s, a national championship in 1995 and a runner-up finish in 1994. He then moved to mid-major UW-Milwaukee, where he directed the Panthers to the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament with wins over major conference powers Alabama and Boston College.

Grunfeld, a Tennessee basketball legend who is considered one of the top front office talents in the NBA, gave Pearlís hire a ringing endorsement.

ďHeís a basketball junkie,Ē the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards said. ďHe loves the game. He loves to talk about it. He lives it, breathes it and eats it, and those are the type of people you want running your program. And besides all that, heís a good guy.Ē

In 15 seasons as a head coach, Pearl has compiled a 363-103 career record that includes a 46-19 record in two years at Tennessee. His teams have received postseason bids 14 times and have advanced to the Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournaments eight times. Five times he has been named league coach of the year and 14 times his teams have registered at least 20 wins, including a school record 26 at UW-Milwaukee in 2005.

During the 2005 campaign, he became one of the fastest coaches in NCAA history to reach the 300-win milestone. Pearl needed just 382 games to reach the 300-win mark, which was second only to Roy Williams (Kansas and North Carolina), who needed 370 games.


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