Davis knew Pearl would succeed

Bruce Pearl shocked most Tennessee and SEC fans with his first-year performance.

He didn't have the talent to win the East Division by two games, rout Texas at Texas, sweep Florida, win at Rupp Arena and achieve a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But that's exactly what Pearl did in garnering national coach of the year honors by The Sporting News.

But one person wasn't taken aback: Tom Davis.

``I really didn't know the talent situation (at Tennessee), but I'm not surprised by his success,'' Davis said. ``He's well prepared and he did a heckuva job.''

Davis knows Pearl better than most. It was Davis who hired Pearl as a student manager at Boston College more than 25 years ago. It was Davis that brought Pearl with him to Stanford and Iowa. It was Davis who pegged Pearl as a future star in the coaching ranks.

``I think he has all the qualities you need (to be a good coach),'' said Davis, now coaching at Drake University. ``He's developed them along the way. He's come up the hard way, worked his way up through the ranks, paid his dues, learned all the things you have to learn to be successful in his profession. You can see it paying off at Tennessee.''

Tennessee went 22-8, losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Vols were trying to become just the second team in program history to reach the Sweet 16 by winning two games.

They came one game shy. And Pearl felt, for the first time all season, UT lost to an inferior team. He thought Winthrop – UT's first-round NCAA opponent -- was as good, if not better, than Wichita State.

But that shouldn't detract from the magic Pearl worked in his first year of building a program that he hopes will be a consistent Sweet 16 threat.

Davis hired Pearl as an 18-year-old because Pearl had ``tremendous high energy.'' Pearl, who just turned 46, still has that high energy. He also has a high intellect, motivational ability and marketing skills.

In short, Pearl is the complete package.

Davis said he's had two assistants through the years who stood out as head coaching candidates. Davis said when he was at Lafayette, he was allowed to hire an assistant, but only if that assistant agreed to be the soccer coach as well.

``He had never seen a soccer game,'' Davis said.

The man agreed to join Davis and to coach soccer. He later went on to be a successful basketball coach at Boston College and Ohio State and win a national championship at Maryland. His name: Gary Williams.

``I could tell the first time I met Gary he would be a real good basketball coach,'' Davis said. ``That's the same thing with Bruce. You could see he had all the talent you needed.''

Davis said he sees similarities in his system and Pearl's system. But Davis also sees differences.

``You're always influenced by the people you develop your talents with, and then you add your own personalities,'' Davis said. ``That's the fun of coaching – to add your own stamp to things. Yet, you always go back to your roots, without a doubt.''

Davis said Pearl learned some things not just from Davis, but from Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, John Thompson at Georgetown, Rollie Massimino at Villanova – all successful Big East coaches.

Like Davis, Pearl presses. Pearl pressed at Tennessee with a short roster and limited athleticism. The success of the press took many by surprise. Not Davis.

Lack of athletes ``is actually a part of the reason you press,'' Davis said. ``The more you apply defense at a distance from the basket, the less risk there is involved. So, if you're working somebody 94 to 74 feet from the basket, even if you have a breakdown or an error, they're not going to score from there (backcourt).

``And your size and speed and quickness is more irrelevant the farther from the basket you go. The closer you get to the basket, the more distinct the advantage of being bigger and quicker and more athletic becomes.''

So, why don't more teams press?

``It's easy to lose confidence in it,'' Davis said. ``You've got to really be committed to it because you can just get blistered. Some nights they can just go right through it and some nights, you look bad and fans say, `Take the press off.'

``You've got to stay committed to it. It doesn't fit everybody's personality.''

Pearl was a 13-year head coach before he landed a job at a major school in a major conference. Some felt he was black balled because of his role in turning in Illinois for recruiting violations when Pearl was an assistant at Iowa.

But Davis said Pearl was simply patient, and the patience paid off.

``He had other offers,'' Davis said. ``He bided his time really well and made sure it was the right job. He stayed at Southern Indiana longer than he had to. Yet, that's why he's as well prepared as he is today. He didn't rush himself.

``There's something to be learned from that. A lot of young guys rush into that first college head coaching job. They get their big-time job but they don't have the wherewithal to be successful at that job. So, it's kind of unfair to thrust them into that position – a high pressure, high exposure job -- before they're ready for it.

``All assistants are anxious to be head coaches and they all think they're ready, but there's still an awful lot to be learned.''

VOLS COURT FOUR GUARDS

The Vols are courting four guards in hopes of bolstering the backcourt next season and finding an adequate replacement for point guard C.J. Watson.

UT has its eyes on a 6-2 Michael Taylor from Chippola Junior College in Marietta, Fla. Taylor is from Milwaukee and likely would have signed with Pearl at Wisconsin-Milwaukee had he had the grades.

Ramar Smith, a 6-2 combo guard from Detroit, has an official visit set for April 8-9. He originally committed to Connecticut.

The Vols are also looking at teammates from Bridgton (Maine) Academy – Jarvis Hill and Keaton Grant. Hill, who is from Starkville, Miss., originally committed to UT under Buzz Peterson, signed at Auburn, but didn't qualify. Grant, from Kissimmee, Fla., signed with Missouri but didn't qualify.

Of the four, Smith and Taylor are considered the better point guards.

UT has signed two combo guards: Marques Johnson and Josh Tabb.


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