Pearl's Vision Takes Shape

If you want a good gauge on what a coach will do in the future, look at what he's done in the recent past and what he's currently doing. Using that criteria, Tennessee basketball fans have a lot to look forward to with Bruce Pearl at the helm.

That hardly qualifies as a news bulletin in a Big Orange Nation that Coach Pearl took by storm in his first season, but it is a probable prelude to better things to come. In his four seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which didn't register even a blip on the national radar before his arrival, he won an average of 21.5 games per season and always had the Panthers in the Horizon Conference title picture. His first season at Tennessee he won 21 games and the SEC East championship with a pair of victories over eventual national champion Florida, and a road win over perennial power Kentucky.

Moreover, he did it with players that had managed to win but one post season game in the last three years, and hadn't qualified for a single NCAA Tournament in four years under Buzz Peterson. He did it with players that were recruited to man a system that didn't remotely resemble Pearl's up tempo, pressing style.

He has since added six players of his own choosing and is fully engaged in putting together his second full signing class at UT. Take the players he's added along with the prospects he's recruiting and the players he had at Milwaukee-Wisconsin and his plans come into sharp focus.

Assimilating these factors we can deduce the following:

• Forget the term prototypical when evaluating players. That is to say there won't necessarily be 6-foot point guards, 6-3 shooting guards, 6-5 wings, 6-9 power forwards and 7-foot centers, or players limited to one position. Quickness will be the common denominator among personnel and diversity will be the watchword. Pearl wants players that can handle more than one position because it maximizes depth and gives him the flexibility to counter the divergent styles one encounters in post season play.

• Think atypical where players are concerned. Pearl proved at UMW that he likes to put personnel on the floor that creates match-up issues on both ends of the court for opponents. This strategy is an all out assault on an opponent's comfort zone and, combined with stifling full-court pressure, disrupts continuity. In NCAA wins over Alabama and Boston College in the 2005, Pearl used 6-5 strongman, Joah Tucker on the wing to overpower smaller defenders. "He's a beast physically at the three," Pearl would say. "He's a nightmare match-up." Tucker doubled his regular season scoring average with 25.1 points in three tourney contest against B.C., Bama and Illinois. Pearl could use four-star signee Duke Crews in the same manner next season, playing him at power forward against slower opponents and at the wing against smaller.

• Pearl used 6-7 Adrian Tigart at center, and while he averaged only 6.1 points per game in 2005, he dished out 110 assists and averaged seven rebounds per contest. Pearl isn't looking for points from the center position as much as he wants defense, boards, a good passer and someone fast enough to get out on the secondary break. A center in Pearl's 1-2-1-1 full court zone press has to defend the goal as well as apply pressure near midcourt. Mobility is critical as is a blue collar mindset. That's why 6-9 Wayne Chism could end up playing center in addition to power forward for UT next fall. He fits the job description and offers post-up offense as a bonus.

• Pearl's signees are all excellent athletes which, given proper motivation, means they are outstanding defenders. They all have the long arms, quick feet and acute anticipation needed to trap the ball and create turnovers. They are also talented enough to turn TOs into transition baskets.Marques Johnson is a 6-6 prospect who can play the point or the wing. Ramar Snith can handle the point or two-guard roles. When the Vols are up to full strength and Pearl hand pick and develops all the players he needs to fully implement his vision, there will be no drop off when UT goes to its bench, and no relief from the application of relentless pressure. He'll turn every game into a war of attrition and no deficit will be insurmountable.

When you consider what Pearl looks for in a prospect you've got to wonder if he would have signed Chris Lofton, who is strictly a shooting guard albeit a great one, or Dane Bradshaw, who after three years still doesn't have a natural fit on the floor. Pearl accomplished what he did last year without handpicked personnel and only nominal depth. He did it with players that had not experienced winning at the collegiate level and a fan base that was physically and emotionally absent before his arrival.

What will Pearl accomplish when all the components are in place?

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