"I wasn't good enough to play at Boston College," Auburn's new head coach says. "In my sophomore year we went into the Big East Conference. I was good enough to be able to practice on occasion for our coach, Dr. Tom Davis, and be on the scout team or something like that in addition to doing other things. I was a manager, student director of promotions and an administrative assistant.
"My being a part of Dr. Tom Davis' team in those different roles got me started in the world of college basketball," Pearl points out. "That is one of the reasons why we invited our student body to come to a meeting. We had 170 students come and they were interested in everything from compliance, to the Tigerettes to doing video, statistics and analytics, being a manager or being in marketing and development. We are going to try and get them involved in different areas of athletics so they can have that internship.
"Walk-ons have always played a huge part in the development of our programs," the coach notes. "I get this from Dr. Tom Davis. He called it ‘The Gray Team' because they wore they gray, cotton T-Shirts as part of the scout team and when you sweat through them they change into a darker color. They helped make us better, but Tom didn't care, nor do I, how you're recruited, where you're from, whether you are on scholarship or not. If you can play, you can be out there.
"Playing nine or 10 guys on a regular basis like I do, with injury and foul trouble, I can't tell you how many times walk-ons have made a difference in our program. When we beat number one Kansas a few years ago, I had three walk-ons in our starting lineup--Steven (Pearl), Josh Bone and Skyler McBee. We beat the number one team in the country and those kids probably played about 30 minutes and without them we don't beat Kansas.
"Josh Bone eventually got put on scholarship and Skyler McBee eventually got put on scholarship after initially walking on. Steven Pearl was on the Bruce Pearl scholarship. He was good enough to be on scholarship, he should have been on scholarship, but he would have counted against us. Dad was making a good enough living to pay for it with in-state tuition. I was happy to pay, but he had more than earned a scholarship.
"My point is that I don't care who they are, where they're from, whether they are on scholarship or not, if they belong out there I will play them and if they get into the regular rotation they have got a chance to earn a scholarship," Pearl says.
"Those players usually come from within state because of the affordability of tuition," he says. "Occasionally you might have an out-of-state player, whose father played there, who always wanted to be a part of your program and I think that is great.
"Guys like that could maybe go to low Division I level programs or maybe get a scholarship with a Division II team," Pearl notes. "In some ways it is like playing in the Ivy League or the Patriot League and those guys are almost always there for the right reasons.
"My son Steven was offered low Division I and Division II scholarships, and I told him, ‘If you want to play early in your career, then you need to go to The'Citadel or you need to go to Southern Indiana.'
"There were two things he said. ‘One, I want to play for you, and I want to see if I can play at the highest level.' The same thing was true with Skyler McBee. He had low Division I offers and he just said, ‘You know what, I just want to see if I can play at Tennessee.'
"That is like what happened with Alex Thompson," he said of the Auburn sophomore forward who joined the team as a walk-on last season and later was put on scholarship. "I really do enjoy giving those guys the opportunity and I enjoy believing in them, too."