Vols basketball a family affair for Bruce Pearl
Coach Bruce Pearl likes to talk about family, both his real
family and his Tennessee Volunteers family. Fortunately for him,
the two overlap.
It will be quite the family affair for Pearl on Saturday when
the Vols (16-10, 6-5 Southeastern Conference) host Georgia.
Son Steven will be on the court as one of the Volunteers’
reserve forwards, daughter Jacqui will sing the national anthem and
his wife, Brandy, will be there to promote the family’s goal to
raise $1 million for cancer prevention programs as part of
Tennessee’s Outlive campaign.
”One of the things about being here is I’m not a guest,” Pearl
said. ”It’s our life. It just makes sense because in order to be
effective in my job it requires the family’s commitment, their
tolerance of having to share me.”
They also helped him bear the frustration and sadness he felt
while suspended from coaching the Vols during the first eight SEC
games of the season as punishment for misleading NCAA investigators
during an ongoing probe into recruiting by him and his staff.
The Outlive campaign, in its third season, is part of the
Pearls’ effort to give back to Tennessee and the Knoxville
community. It was the idea of former graduate assistant Brooks
Savage, who was inspired after learning of former Tennessee guard
Chris Lofton’s battle with testicular cancer and that Pearl’s
mother, Barbara, was a cancer survivor.
Proceeds from the sale of T-shirts that fans are being
encouraged to wear to the Georgia game as part of a ”white out”
and tickets to a fundraising event the Pearls will host in April
will be donated to the University of Tennessee Medical Center
Pearl wouldn’t even be coaching the Vols without the blessing of
his family, particularly his two oldest children. Jacqui was
attending the University of Wisconsin and Steven was a junior in
high school when Pearl interviewed with Tennessee athletics
director Mike Hamilton in the spring of 2005 after leading
Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the NCAA regional semifinals.
”I wanted the job badly, but I answered him, ‘I can’t say right
now, Mike, because I’ve got to go home and talk to my family.’ If
they really had strong objections at that time – I had seven guys
coming back, we were going to be better the next year at Milwaukee
– but (Steven) said, ‘No dad, let’s go.”’
Steven Pearl didn’t get much interest from schools when it came
time to graduate high school, but he also was interested in
remaining close to his family. He’s played a much larger role for
the Vols during his senior season thanks to his solid defensive
play and strong leadership on and off the court.
”I’ve always been vocal because I feel like a lot of the guys
on the team will listen to me,” said Steven, 23. ”A lot of them
shut down when the other guys talk to them, but I feel like they
respect me enough to listen to me and know that I have their best
interest at heart.”
Bruce Pearl gets a little teary-eyed sometimes when he talks
about the way Steven became a bigger leader during his suspension.
He knows his son puts up with extra heckling and pressure from
outside the program and that there’s an extra challenge that comes
with playing for your father.
”I try to let there be a separation between the coach and the
father,” Bruce Pearl said. ”There have been times I will say,
‘All right, who do you want to talk to? Do you want to talk to your
coach or do you want to talk to your dad?’ It helps us because if
he can’t confide in his dad, then who can he go to?”
Pearl’s two younger children from his previous marriage,
17-year-old Leah and 15-year-old Michael, could end up filling in
for Steven after he leaves Tennessee. Leah, a junior at Knoxville’s
Bearden High School, plans to try out for the Vols’ dance team, and
Michael is an aspiring basketball coach who likes to watch film and
draw up plays and also wants to attend Tennessee.
Like Michael, Jacqui used to spend time watching game tape with
her dad. When Bruce Pearl and Steven participated in the World
Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2009 as coach and player for the U.S.
basketball team, Jacqui went along and kept stats and assisted as a
kind of team manager.
She hopes to return with them for the next Maccabiah Games, an
international Olympics-style event for Jewish athletes, in 2013.
Until then, she’ll keep filling in as the Vols’ part-time anthem
”I love being able to sing at the games – it’s my part of the
show we’ve got going down here,” said Jacqui, 25. ”I get a rush
from being on the court in front of 20,000 fans and doing my