Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
—Lou Reed‘The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.’—Ezekiel 18:20NEW YORK — Before Steven Pearl and his Tennessee teammates even stepped on the Madison Square Garden floor Wednesday night, one VCU fan in the front row held up a sign that read, “Cheaters Never Win.”
The sign was aimed squarely at Bruce Pearl, the embattled Tennessee coach and father of Steven, a 6-foot-5 senior guard with the Vols.
During the second half, after VCU’s Bradford Burgess drove Steven to the court with his right arm on an intentional foul, a spectator heckled, “Get up, there’s a barbecue at your house.”
“It’s been tough,” Steven, 23, said in the Tennessee locker room after notching four points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal in his team’s 77-72 victory.
“Turn on the TV every day and having to see people just bashing him. It [stinks] because it’s your dad and you love him and you never want to see people doing that to him.”
No. 24 Tennessee (4-0) will face No. 7 Villanova (5-0) Friday at 5 p.m. for the NIT Season Tip-Off championship.
Both the sign and the barbecue comment were references to the NCAA investigation into Bruce Pearl for having junior recruits at his home in the summer of 2008, a violation of NCAA rules. Pearl initially told the players not to tell anyone. The coach then lied to the NCAA by denying that it happened, only to come clean during a second meeting with NCAA officials.
Tennessee cut Pearl’s salary by $1.5 million in September and told him he couldn’t recruit off campus for one year. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive last Friday suspended Pearl for the first eight games of the conference schedule. Pearl must still go before the committee on infractions this winter or spring.
“Yeah, I mean it’s disappointing,” Steven said. “But I know everything happens for a reason. It’s tough. The things we did are not so major but he lied and he understands that. And he’s not a lying man. He felt bad. He felt bad in his conscience and he called them back so he did the right thing.”
Bruce Pearl told a group of reporters in New York Tuesday that he was “embarrassed” and “humiliated” by what has transpired.
“We’ve run a clean program,” Pearl said. “I’ve always run a clean program, and that’s why it’s so humbling and humiliating.”
Steven was born in Iowa City when his father coached under Dr. Tom Davis at Iowa.
He went on to averaged 21.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists as a senior at West High School in Knoxville and led the U.S. to a gold medal at the 2006 Maccabi Games in Sydney, Australia.
He entered the VCU game averaging 2.7 points in 13 minutes a game
According to his bio, he conducted a three-day basketball clinic at Tikva Children’s Home in the Ukraine this past summer to help Jewish orphans.
As the scandal has unfolded, Steven says he and the team have enjoyed support on campus.
“The people in Knoxville have been unbelievable,” he said. “Everybody says ‘We have your back. We have your dad’s back.’ So the love and support in Knoxville couldn’t be any better.”
But away from campus and across the national media, Steven has been told that his dad’s a “cheater” and an “awful person.”
“You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt and just know that they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Steven said. “Just smile and move on.”
He said the situation has brought him closer to his father and also bonded Bruce Pearl with everyone on the team.
“We’ve always been very close,” Steven said. “Right now I have his back more than ever, and the team has his back more than ever. And we showed that [Wednesday night] we’re still close, but this has definitely brought us a little closer.”
Asked what it was like having his son with him through this trying ordeal, Bruce Pearl said: “Having Steve out there is wonderful. I love my players and I love my son.
“He’s a tough kid who gives everything he’s got, and he’s a defensive guy. And he’s earned the respect of his teammates. That’s the greatest thing that’s happened to Steven. He’s earned the respect of high major guys. And he knows his role. So his father is proud of him.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.