A time for prayer

The events and revelations of the past few days have brought Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl to his knees. Literally.

"I've been praying a lot," he said.

Given the stress of the moment, that's understandable. Four of his key players - Tyler Smith, Brian Williams, Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins - are facing assorted criminal charges stemming from their arrest last Friday. None will play Wednesday night against Charlotte and none is guaranteed to play again this season, pending the outcome of their legal matters.

Normally bubbly and energetic, Pearl was soft-spoken and subdued as he gave his take on the ugly incident that has brought the university considerable negative publicity in recent days. He was a little distracted, too, once referring to his team as having "an 11-2 record." In fact, the Vols are 10-2.

Acknowledging that this has been "a very difficult time," the coach said he and other UT representatives "have tried to be as honest and open as we possibly could, given the circumstances and the information that we know.... We are still very, very much in a difficult state, as relates to our feelings, our disappointment."

Noting that he and his players - past and present - have worked hard to "try to get our basketball program up to the level of excellence and credibility of the rest of the university," Pearl added: "When things like this happen, it tarnishes everything we're trying to do."

The coach said he talked to the four players before they had met with attorneys, adding: "I don't feel any differently after talking to them. They're accountable. They're disappointed. They're embarrassed - for themselves, for their families and for how they've represented the University of Tennessee."

In addition to possessing two guns (one with an altered serial number), a bag of marijuana and a container of open alcohol when they were stopped for speeding, the players were riding in a rental car whose use may have constituted an NCAA "extra-benefits" violation.

Pearl noted that the situation involves "several things that, when you add them all together, it's a worst-case scenario."

The coach expressed determination to "treat each individual fairly," adding that "As we continue to gain the facts, we'll make decisions as relates to their responsibility in the incident."

Pearl described the players as "forthcoming," but said they are "confused."

The coach said the legal system will determine which actions were felonies and which were misdemeanors, along with how many charges will be filed against each player. Once all of this is done, Pearl will weigh the information and determine the fate of the four individuals as relates to Vol basketball program.

"Obviously, I'm not an attorney," he said, "so we will listen and make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate times."

After mentioning his players, other UT athletes and students, fans and donors, university faculty members, officials and other UT employees, Pearl said he feels "that burden and that responsibility for having let all of those people down."

The coach noted that the four players "have no criminal record and have done a lot of really good things at the university, and are just as devastated, embarrassed and upset as anybody, so it's really important that we treat them fairly."

The coach asked that media and fans "allow this thing to run its course and trust - and TRUST - that the university officials, the athletic officials and myself will do the right thing."

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