September 11, 2006
There were a lot of great stories in college basketball last season. Florida, after losing Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson to the pros early, surprised many by winning the national championship. Billy Donovan's young team marched on, led by Joakim Noah and several super sophs.
George Mason reached the Final Four by beating the likes of North Carolina, Michigan State and Connecticut. Jim Larranaga was Mr. Cinderella as the Patriots struck a chord for the mid-major.
Another great story was the resurgence of Tennessee basketball. Bruce Pearl wielded the magic as he brought excitement, enthusiasm and spirit to Rocky Top down in Knoxville. It was felt by all in the basketball community.
When you think about Tennessee hoops, you usually think about Pat Summitt and the incredible job she has done over the years. Think about 913 wins over a 32-year head coaching career with the Lady Vols. She is a genuine Hall of Famer, a legend, superstar and icon.
Pearl certainly made his name known in his first season, leading the Vols to a 22-8 record. The expectations were not that high since Tennessee was picked fifth out of six teams in the SEC East in a preseason poll.
Also consider the fact that the Vols swept the regular-season series from the eventual national-champion Gators and you have to be impressed.
Now the big question down in Knoxville is, what will happen in year two? Pearl already sent a message loud and clear that discipline will be part of the program as well. The coach did not feel starter Major Wingate was living up to expectations of Vols basketball with negative off-court actions. Pearl made the difficult decision to dismiss Wingate, who recently admitted he failed another drug test.
Losing the 6-10 Wingate hurts Tennessee on the court. Pearl understood the move had to be made for the sake of the program. It all starts with discipline and having that enthusiastic approach is certainly a positive. Overall, Pearl will have recruiting success as he continues to build the Tennessee program.
It will be interesting to watch the Vols in year two under Mr. Pearl.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.