His Vols take a 21-6 record, an SEC East title and a No. 14 national ranking into this week's SEC Tournament, yet Pearl refuses to surrender the underdog role.
"I still think we are," he said following Tuesday's practice. "We didn't win the regular-season championship … LSU did. And winning respect takes more than three-quarters of a season. It's going to take years. This team certainly got it started, but we've got a long way to go."
Pearl points to Tennessee's snub by CBS as Exhibit A in his "We get no respect" argument.
Auburn, Ole Miss and Georgia were the SEC's bottom-feeders this year, along with Mississippi State. So being lumped with those teams is less than complimentary.
"That's where they've got us," Pearl said, appropriately somber. "That's where we belong."
Why is he making the CBS snub such an issue? Because CBS will televise Sunday's SEC title game, and Pearl wants his players to view winning their way onto the CBS telecast as the ultimate vindication.
"CBS is televising the game on Sunday," the coach said. "There's plenty of motivation."
Has Pearl convinced his players that the basketball world still considers Tennessee a pretender, rather than a contender? Apparently.
"Now that we've put ourselves in this position (No. 1 seed from the SEC East) we're thankful for it," junior forward Dane Bradshaw said. "But if we REALLY want to get respect we've got to come through at tournament time. March is when you get your respect."
Senior wing Stanley Asumnu couldn't stifle a grin as he discussed Pearl's insistence that the Vols get no respect.
"Coach always finds a way to motivate us," Asumnu said. "Basically, we're still trying to gain respect in this league. Even though we're a No. 1 seed we still haven't gained any respect.
"That's good. That's something we're going to use to prod us when we get in this tournament … to prove everybody wrong … to prove we're for real this year."
So, forget the 21-6 record. Forget the SEC East title. Forget the No. 1 seeding. Forget the national ranking. Tennessee is still the scrawny little kid preparing to square off against the neighborhood bully.
"I think we're pretty motivated," Pearl said. "I think we're hungry. I still think there are a lot of folks out there that think what's happened so far was an accident. There's no sense of accomplishment … no sense of accomplishment at all."