UT Hoops Get Juicy

New coach Pearl jousts with the father of a reluctant recruit

The elder Smith, meanwhile, is waging a smear campaign on UT of Lockean proportions. Vol fans that follow the program closely will remember the name "Juicy" Locke, the embattled father of former UT footballer Eric Locke. Juicy devoted more time to dismantling Phillip Fulmer's empire than helping his son with his transgression-riddled football career. He ended up causing Fulmer some sleepless nights, rather than helping his son get his head on straight.

The problem harkens back to Smith's recruiting. Smith signed a national letter of intent with UT back in November primarily based on his relationship with then-UT assistant Chuck Benson. Instead of retaining Benson and thus preserving the link between Smith and Tennessee when he took over for the deposed Peterson, Pearl went for the scorched-earth approach of blowing out all of Peterson's assistants.

Initially, the Smiths claimed they would allow Pearl ample opportunity to re-recruit their son. It should be noted that under the by-laws of those national letters of intent, Smith is essentially UT's property—unless Pearl chooses to release him. If a release were granted, Smith would then be eligible to sign with another Division 1-A school. Barring a release, Smith would have to sit out at least two years in order to play at the Division 1-A level. A release could make Smith's life simpler. So would giving Pearl and UT an honest shot in this "re-recruiting" process. But in this case, it doesn't look like "simpler" is going to happen.

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Must've had a rare weekend off.

It's a blessing to ply my trade in this market, where there's always something juicy cooking on the local sports scene. Just ask new University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, whose honeymoon in Rocky Top ended several weeks ago. First he saw top in-state target Jamont Gordon embarrassingly bolt to Mississippi State. Now he's slugging it out in public with a disgruntled Tennessee signee's father. Welcome to Big Orange Country, where a coach's nightmare is a radio host's dream.

I recently had the opportunity of talking to both Bruce Pearl and Billy Smith on consecutive days on my radio show. The topic of conversation was Billy Smith's son, Tyler Smith, a 6-7 forward from Giles County who signed with UT back in November. A top-50 player in America, Smith was to be a cornerstone upon which former coach Buzz Peterson would build his Big Orange fortress. Now that Buzz is gone, Smith is wavering on his decision to come to UT.

The elder Smith, meanwhile, is waging a smear campaign on UT of Lockean proportions. Vol fans that follow the program closely will remember the name "Juicy" Locke, the embattled father of former UT footballer Eric Locke. Juicy devoted more time to dismantling Phillip Fulmer's empire than helping his son with his transgression-riddled football career. He ended up causing Fulmer some sleepless nights, rather than helping his son get his head on straight.

Now, Billy ("Baby Juice") Smith comes on my show accusing Pearl of being "a man of low character who lied to me." He went on to accuse UT AD Mike Hamilton of being a "liar who spoke out [of] both sides of his mouth before firing Buzz Peterson."

The problem harkens back to Smith's recruiting. Smith signed a national letter of intent with UT back in November primarily based on his relationship with then-UT assistant Chuck Benson. Instead of retaining Benson and thus preserving the link between Smith and Tennessee when he took over for the deposed Peterson, Pearl went for the scorched-earth approach of blowing out all of Peterson's assistants.

Initially, the Smiths claimed they would allow Pearl ample opportunity to re-recruit their son. It should be noted that under the by-laws of those national letters of intent, Smith is essentially UT's property—unless Pearl chooses to release him. If a release were granted, Smith would then be eligible to sign with another Division 1-A school. Barring a release, Smith would have to sit out at least two years in order to play at the Division 1-A level. A release could make Smith's life simpler. So would giving Pearl and UT an honest shot in this "re-recruiting" process. But in this case, it doesn't look like "simpler" is going to happen.

That's especially true when you consider Pearl's unprecedented move of verbally tussling with Baby Juice in public. Pearl said on my radio show that, "Billy Smith never gave me a chance to recruit his son. He wouldn't even let me talk to his son alone. Here is a guy who wouldn't even come to Knoxville for a visit. He made no attempt to get to know me. He has an agenda. It's a shame because he's going to cost his son a couple of precious years by doing this."

Pearl went on to say that Smith is a guy who has dealt with Tennessee in bad faith. Smith, on the other hand, claims it is the UT folks who are acting disingenuously.

"First Coach Pearl says he would release my son if we decided we didn't feel comfortable with him. Now they are not going to grant him a release. That's wrong," Smith said.

"This is the same guy who promised he would bring Chuck Benson to our house the first time he came here (back in early April)," he continued. "I specifically asked him to bring Chuck along to make Tyler feel more comfortable and he told me he would. Then he has some excuse for me as to why Chuck wasn't with him. Bruce Pearl proved that he is a liar right there."

When asked about Pearl's assertion that he was closed-minded to the idea of visiting UT, Smith responded, "Hey, I work six days a week. I can't be expected to be everywhere. I have other family besides Tyler. I have other things going on."

Apparently many other things: It seems Smith had to end our interview abruptly because he was catching a flight for Houston. His son was playing a weekend tourney there with his AAU Team. Must've had a rare weekend off.

Pearl ended his own assessment of Billy Smith by adding that, "When you had a chance to interview him, you saw what kind of erratic behavior you're dealing with [in] this guy."

In great theater as in real life, two wrongs don't make a right. Pearl and UT need to give Smith an unconditional release. Then again, Smith's father needs to get out of the way, or at least chill, and give Pearl an honest chance with his son. Whether any of that happens, Smith will remain a part of Tennessee basketball lore.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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