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

Cancer Institute.

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

singer.

”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

part.”