Valuable Pearl

Playing basketball for your father is no walk in the park. Nor is coaching your son. Charges of favoritism are inevitable.

The Tennessee Vols discovered as much with Wade and Allan Houston during the early 1990s, then rediscovered as much with Bruce and Steven Pearl during the past four years.

Allan Houston was a tremendous college player, averaging better than 20 points per game in each of his four years as a Vol. Still, some fans grumbled that he was a ball-hog who wouldn't be taking so many shots if his father weren't the head coach.

Conversely, Steven Pearl is not a tremendous college player. He's an average player who is never accused of being a ball-hog. His career high is 6 points. Still, some fans grumble that he wouldn't be getting 11 minutes of playing time per game if his father weren't the head coach.

Faced with this no-win situation, Bruce Pearl rarely has commented about his son's play, even when a comment was appropriate. In a Game 5 upset of seventh-ranked Villanova, for instance, Steven contributed 2 points, 3 rebounds, a blocked shot and 2 steals in 15 quality minutes. In Game 19 against eighth-ranked UConn he was 2 for 2 from the floor and finished with 4 points, a rebound and a steal in 8 solid minutes.

The 6-5, 235-pound senior forward came through again in Game 21 at Ole Miss last Saturday. With star freshman Tobias Harris struggling through a 2-for-12 shooting day, Steven Pearl came off the bench to hit 2 of 2 field-goal tries en route to a 4-point, 2-rebound, 2-assist effort in 10 excellent minutes. He also did his usual bang-up job on defense. The performance was so strong that it prompted his father to break his silence regarding his son.

"I think Steven Pearl's play has been tremendous," Bruce Pearl said. "He's brought us great energy. He makes everybody on the team better defensively when he's out there on the floor (because) he's such a good communicator, such a good helper. He puts good pressure on the basketball. He doesn't take a possession off, and he's a tough kid."

Steven Pearl is hitting 56.0 percent of his shots, a figure which ranks second on the team to John Fields' 64.0 mark. Still, some fans complain that Tennessee is playing four-against-five offensively when he's in the game because of his limited scoring range. Lately, young Pearl has begun taking the ball to the hoop more when opponents decline to guard him. After going 0 for 3 from the field in Games 12 through 17, he has gone 5 for 8 in the past four games.

"On the offensive end, he just doesn't hurt us," Bruce Pearl said. "When you're out there with him, he's not looking to shoot the basketball. That's no surprise. He's going to get other guys involved and get them touches."

This has been a trying season for Bruce Pearl. Already forfeiting $1.5 million in salary and serving an eight-game suspension, he may face still more penalties due to an ongoing NCAA investigation of his recruiting practices. Remaining focused in spite of his father's troubles, Steven Pearl has elevated his play - contributing significantly in terms of energy, toughness, defense and even leadership.

"He's been a real good leader," Bruce Pearl said. "I think he's had a calming influence on the team. He's stepped up his leadership in my absence."

TOBIAS HONORED: Tobias Harris has been tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 8.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game vs. LSU and Ole Miss. The New York native produced 11 points and 11 rebounds in a 75-53 defeat of the Tigers, then added 6 points and 12 rebounds in a 74-57 trouncing of the Rebels in Oxford. The 6-8, 226-pounder is averaging 14.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in SEC play.

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