Pearl: 'We can win big here'

Based on the support he's getting from fans and school officials, Tennessee's new head basketball coach is excited about the program's future …at least its LONG-RANGE future.

"I think people are going to give us a shot," Bruce Pearl said during his first preseason news conference Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. "I think they're excited about men's basketball at the University of Tennessee. I tell you: We can win big here in men's basketball. I'm very, very optimistic about the future, from all the things I've seen."

Tennessee's immediate future is muddled, however. Pearl admits there is a lot he doesn't know about his team, his conference and his challenge as he prepares to embark on his first season in Knoxville. One comment pretty well summed up his quandary:

"Keep in mind: This is my first year with these guys, so I don't know exactly what I have. This is my first year in the SEC, so I don't know exactly what I'm going to face. Therefore, I don't know exactly what I need."

Pearl will know a lot more about his team, his league and his challenge in a few months. That should make Year 2 a little easier than Year 1.

"This will be a learning process, for sure," he said. "So, I'll be in a better position in future years to know what the league looks like, as it relates to what I have."

Although there is much Pearl doesn't know at present, there is one thing he DOES know: His players are eager to get going. They want to redeem themselves after last year's 14-17 disappointment.

"These guys are excited about getting started," the coach said. "They're certainly confident that we can compete and improve on last season."

Pearl has convinced school officials to upgrade Thompson-Boling Arena by providing luxury suites for big-money donors and better seating for students. He's also pursuing a separate practice facility for his athletes.

"We are moving forward on a new practice facility; it is an absolute must," he said. "We are working on renovating this building – making it not just the largest but the BEST facility in the country. With the adding of our suites, the changing of our student section and the new court with Pat Summitt's name, this is going to become one of the finest facilities in college basketball.

"You add the practice facility to that, and this is a place we recruit to and make this program as competitive as anybody's in the SEC."

Tennessee hasn't been competitive with the SEC's top teams the past four years, and it probably won't be this season, either. Still, Pearl is setting his goals high.

"My goals are the same as always: We're going to try to compete for the championship of this league and try to make post-season," he said. "Down the road maybe it won't be just to MAKE post-season but to ADVANCE in post-season."

The recent dismissal of Jemere Hendrix, coupled with the suspension of Andre Patterson, leaves UT with just nine scholarship players. As a result, injuries and foul problems could be devastating. Fatigue could be a factor, too, given the lack of depth and Pearl's high-octane style of play. The new coach understands the season ahead could be a challenging one.

"Right now I've got to focus on how we play," he said. "I'll know a lot more after we get started."

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