Pearl a Coach of Year finalist

ATLANTA -- Four of the nation's best men's college basketball coaches were named as finalists for the Naismith Award presented by POWERade, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today. Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, George Washington's Karl Hobbs, North Carolina's Roy Williams and Villanova's Jay Wright will make up the final ballot. The Naismith Award is the most prestigious national award presented annually to the men's and women's college basketball coaches of the year.

Finalists were chosen through a vote by the Atlanta Tipoff Club's Board of Selectors, who narrowed the mid-season list of 20 candidates down to the final four. The Board, which is comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country, based its criteria on coaching performances this season. Their votes will account for 75% of the total votes for the Naismith Award for College Coach of the Year presented by POWERade.

Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier, will give fans a prominent voice in selecting the winner. Fan voting, through the power and ease of text messaging, will account for 25% of the selection process. This program sets the standard for integrating fans into the voting process and providing them with more input than with any other major collegiate sports award.

Fans can text message VOTE to 87654 to receive the final ballot and participate in the voting process (other wireless carriers must opt-in for their subscribers to participate). Voting for the Naismith Award for Men?s College Coach of the Year will end on Saturday, April 1 at 9 p.m. ET. The winner will be announced in Indianapolis April 2.

"The Naismith Award has a long tradition of recognizing and celebrating some of the best floor leaders in the college game," said Gary Stokan, Atlanta Tipoff Club president. "These finalists not only represent themselves well as leaders on the court, but as mentors in the lives of their student-athletes."

"The enthusiasm and dedication displayed by college basketball coaches play such an important role in driving the excitement and passion of NCAA basketball," said Valerie Kravitz, director, sports marketing, Coca-Cola North America. "As an official NCAA Corporate Champion, Coca-Cola congratulates each of these deserving men for their outstanding work."

In his first season in Knoxville, Pearl transformed a Volunteer program that had not beeen to the NCAA Tournament since 2001 and was only two games over .500 over the past four seasons. The SEC Coach of the Year, Pearl led Tennessee to a 22-8 record and clinched the SEC Eastern Division title. The Volunteers earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest seed in school history, and won their first tournament game since 2000 before falling in the second round on Saturday.

Hobbs led George Washington to a 26-1 regular-season record, including a perfect 16-0 mark in the Atlantic 10. Hobbs became the first coach in school history to earn A-10 Coach of the Year honors. The Colonials finished the year 27-3 after second-round loss to Duke Sunday. Under Hobbs, George Washington set single-season records for most wins (27), longest winning streak (18 games) and earned the school's first top-10 national ranking in 50 years.

Williams entered the 2005-06 season with a Tar Heels team that had lost its top seven scorers from last year's national championship squad. Relying heavily on four freshman and unheralded upperclassmen, Williams led North Carolina to a 23-8 record, and a 12-4 in ACC play to earn conference Coach of the Year honors. The Heels' surprising season came to an end against George Mason in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

The Big East Coach of the Year, Wright led the Wildcats won their first Big East regular season championship since 1997. In addition, Villanova defeated its first top-ranked team (No. 1 UConn, Feb. 13), tied its highest national ranking (No. 2) and earned its first NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed in school history. Currently 26-3, Villanova returned to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season with a victory over Arizona on Sunday.

Last year's Naismith Award recipient was University of Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber. Other notable winners include Tubby Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Bob Knight.

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