"For two or three minutes he could be Superman ... leap tall buildings in a single bound," the Vol coach noted this week. "Then, a couple of minutes into the activity, he'd feel like he didn't have his legs, didn't have the energy."
Now Pearl knows "the rest of the story." A heart condition revealed by a recent echocardiogram has been adversely affecting Crews' stamina.
"We used to think he had a hard time fighting through fatigue," his coach recalled, "and that had nothing to do with it."
Crews will be withheld from all basketball activities until doctors can pin down the extent of the problem and take steps to treat and/or correct it.
"We're just fortunate through routine testing to uncover a weakness in his heart muscle," Pearl said. "Through rest, treatment and medication, we're hoping he improves."
Crews continues to be examined by heart specialists, as the Vol coach put it, "to reaffirm what it is we have and make sure we're taking the proper steps."
Pearl suggested his players treat Crews' condition as an injury. Deep down, though, he knows this condition is far more serious than a torn ACL or a severely sprained ankle.
"Obviously, on the one hand you want to treat it like an injury, but the heart is a vital organ to sustain life," the Vol coach noted. "I don't have a knee I can play ball on – haven't since I was 32 years old – but it's not a life-threatening condition. Duke's isn't at this point, but it's obviously a concern that needed to be addressed."
Fans may recall the tragic story of Hank Gathers, the Loyola Maramount basketball standout whose heart simply gave out during a game in 1990, causing him to die at the tender age of 23. The coroner ruled the cause of death to be cardiomyopathy.
There is nothing to suggest that Crews' heart condition is as severe as Gathers' but team doctors are taking the cautious approach until they know for certain. As Pearl noted: "We're fortunate we didn't have an incident that prompted us to have to take a look at this."
Tennessee's players learned of their teammates' health problem last Friday, then had to play a game Saturday night against Western Kentucky.
"I thought the team responded as well as could be expected," Pearl said. "It was a rough couple of days emotionally but I thought they responded really well."
In fact, the Vols played one of their better games. With Crews providing motivation from the bench, they put forth a very determined effort.
"I felt like Saturday night there was a greater passion to play the game," Pearl said. "There was a greater focus. I thought the chemistry was good. We really won that game as a team, and we had to really pull together."
Crews, whose passion for basketball is unsurpassed, is surely frustrated that he is unable to play at the present time. Still, he reportedly is handling the situation well.
"Duke's doing great," Pearl said. "His spirits are really high."