Doors open for Hoop Vols

When Tennessee's basketball coaches hit the recruiting trail last year they had very little to sell. The program was coming off a 14-win season with zero NCAA bids in four years. Head coach Buzz Peterson had been canned, and successor Bruce Pearl had never coached a team above the mid-major level.

Well … what a difference a year makes. The Vols now are coming off a 22-win season and a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Pearl signed a top-five recruiting class, earned National Coach of the Year recognition from Sporting News and signed on for six more years with UT.

Whereas the negative impact of the 2004-05 season made recruiting difficult last year, the positive impact of the 2005-06 season has opened a lot of doors this year. Although the Vols have no public commitments to date, numerous prospects who wouldn't give the Vols the time of day one year ago are listening intently to Tennessee's sales pitch this go-around.

"No question," says Tony Jones, UT's associate head coach/recruiting coordinator. "They didn't want to hear that at all last year. This past year's success speaks for itself. They've seen the atmosphere, they've seen the head coach and his extroverted personality. He's a players' coach. He lives it, bleeds it. He sweats Tennessee orange."

Assistant coach Jason Shay also has detected a dramatically different response from prospects regarding the Vol hoops program.

"It's very much different," he says. "We're getting into a lot more doors. They've seen how successful we were and how hard we work. Coach Pearl is on every radio and TV show he can be on. Recruits are taking notice. We're getting in some recruits' doors that Tennessee maybe hasn't in the past because they see the way we play and that we're winning. "

Bruce Pearl and the Vols aren't just winning, though. They're winning ON TELEVISION. That kind of visibility is invaluable on the recruiting front.

"We won some big games on national TV," Shay notes. "We won at Texas, we won at Kentucky. We weren't on TV very much nationally, so winning that type of game makes kids take notice."

Making the Big Dance after a four-year absence was huge, as well. Quality prospects dream of competing for a national title, so getting on the dance floor is a major recruiting tool.

"Making it to the NCAA Tournament is the goal," Shay said, "because if you can get on a roll then, you never know what can happen."

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