Last week, two of Tennessee's verbal commitments for the class of 2011 did Bruce Pearl a solid. Kevin Ware and Chris Jones told a local newspaper that they'd still be coming to Tennessee. They didn't mince words, either. Ware said "of course" he was staying, that he considered Tennessee basketball a "family;" Jones told reporters that his relationship with Pearl was "strong."
That was a good sign for Pearl going forward. After all, the last thing the coach needs as he faces down the threat of termination is a recruiting exodus. But Tennessee has more than Ware and Jones to worry about. Perhaps most important is top recruit Adonis Thomas.
Thomas, the No. 9 overall player in the class of 2011, was still considering Tennessee when he visited on Sept. 11-12. His timing, however, couldn't have been worse. Thomas' visit took place just a day after Pearl tearfully admitted to misleading NCAA investigators; had he been there a day earlier, he could have watched the sordid spectacle from a front row seat. One doubts that's the kind of recruiting visit Thomas had in mind.
But will it affect his decision? Apparently it will, even if Thomas isn't ready to rule out the Vols just yet. From Adam Zagoria (who had this on Sept. 15, but yours truly has been a little under the weather lately, so bear with me):
“I’m still considering them but like anyone that will always be a problem,” the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Memphis native ranked as the No. 6 small forward in the Class of 2011 said Wednesday by phone following an official visit to Tennessee last weekend.
“You don’t want to go to a school that takes the [NCAA] tournament away from you. You go to school to play in the tournament. You’re playing for nothing [if there's no tournament]. That’s a big thing but I’m still considering them. They’re still one of the schools on my list.”
Good news and bad news, then. The good news is that Thomas hasn't written off the Volunteers completely. The bad news is that he's already considered the possibility that his school of choice might not make the NCAA tournament, and recruiting kryptonite doesn't come in a much more distilled form than that. The mere notion of a postseason ban -- whether realistic in this case or not -- is enough to send top prospects running from your program faster than if you told them they had to stay for all four years.
If Thomas is worried about that, it's hard to see him standing by Pearl. Perhaps more importantly, that's an idea Pearl needs to squash immediately if he wants to have any chance of building competitive recruiting classes throughout his current mess. It's not an enviable challenge, that's for sure.