Pearl is no conformist

If fans have learned one thing about University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl in his first two seasons on the job, it is this: He isn't afraid to break away from the pack, even if his peers ridicule him for it.

Pearl wasn't afraid to play to the crowd by raising Dane Bradshaw's hand at LSU in 2006, even though Tiger coach John Brady found the gesture classless. Pearl wasn't afraid to bare his orange-painted chest at a Lady Vol game last winter, even though Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings labeled him an idiot.

Pearl isn't even afraid to dispute one of the most revered of all coaching axioms – the one that says, "Practice makes perfect."

"You honor the game the way you practice, and practice makes permanent," Pearl said on a recent episode of SEC TV. "It DOESN'T make perfect. If you practice imperfectly, you're going to play imperfectly. We're obviously looking to get to some level of perfection."

Pearl isn't understating the importance of practice, of course. Quite the contrary. He believes practice provides an opportunity for growth and progress ... provided the practice is structured, intense and productive. That's why he tries to approach each practice the same, whether the Vols are preparing for an exhibition game with Tusculum or an NCAA Tournament game with Ohio State.

"I'm big on routine," Pearl said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it. The way we warm up, the way I am ... it's the same. I don't care if we've won 10 in a row or lost three in a row. I'm going to be the same."

Athletes tend to be an intuitive bunch. If they sense their coach is nervous, that nervousness filters its way through the roster. Conversely, if they sense the coach is confident, the players get a boost of optimism. Pearl is a confident guy, and his players reflect that. Pearl never takes winning for granted, however, and he wants his players to do the same.

"There are times when I'm pretty calm and pretty relaxed, and we're kicking it," he told SEC TV. "But then when it's time to roll the balls out – and it's time to play – it's time to play the right way."

The bottom line is this: Bruce Pearl knows Tennessee can't play its best game every time it takes the floor. Still, he is determined that Tennessee will give its best effort every time it takes the floor.

"I want my teams to play hard and play unselfishly," he said. "You have an opportunity to create an identity, and I think my basketball teams have an identity."


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