It didn't matter that this was a mere preseason exhibition.
It didn't matter that the opponent was Div. II Carson-Newman.
It didn't matter that there was still 26:45 to play in a game Tennessee eventually would win 106-73.
All that mattered was that Bruce Pearl felt his players had been deprived of a defensive stop and possession of the ball. Exhibition or not, he was going to fight for them. Now THAT'S intensity.
Minutes later, Pearl's passion surfaced again. With the shot clock down to 11 seconds and Carson-Newman working frantically to get a decent look at the basket, Pearl turned to his assistants and instructed them to exhort Vol defenders in their effort to force a shot-clock violation. The aides leaped to their feet, clapping and shouting encouragement from the bench.
Again, THAT'S intensity.
It shouldn't have been surprising, though. Eight days earlier, in the Vols' exhibition opener against Southern Indiana, Pearl incurred a technical foul for arguing a non-call too strenuously. How many coaches can you name who have drawn technical fouls in EXHIBITION games?
Bruce Pearl may not restore Tennessee's status as an SEC contender this year but he's already restored the program's passion. The intensity on the floor is directly linked to the intensity on the bench, and Pearl is intensity personified.
"That's how he is," senior wing Stanley Asumnu said, grinning broadly. "From Day 1 since he's been here, he's been an intense guy. He wants us to go 40 minutes, play hard and leave it all out there.
"To have a coach like that just helps us out so much. It rubs off on us. We're playing hard for us but we're also playing hard for HIM."
Junior wing Dane Bradshaw agrees that Pearl's passion has rubbed off on UT's players. That, he says, is the biggest difference between last season and this season.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm and passion in these guys," Bradshaw said. "That's not taking anything away from the old coaching staff because they worked their tails off for us. But there's just a lot of passion right now."
Clearly, that passion starts at the top.