published Thursday, May 7th, 2009

UT coach Pearl not happy with Vols’ academics penalty


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE — As expected, the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team was temporarily docked one scholarship for next season for a substandard NCAA Academic Progress Report score.

The scores, released Wednesday afternoon, showed Coach Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers with a score of 924 out of a possible 1,000 — one point shy of the 925 needed to avoid penalty.

UT’s score, like every NCAA program’s, was averaged from the past four scholastic years.

Pearl wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, but he’s spoken candidly in recent weeks about a penalty he expected and accepted, but didn’t necessarily understand.

“I think (the APR) has good intentions, I really do,” Pearl said last month. “I just don’t think that it helps us promote diversity on our roster.

“People come to Tennessee and other schools from lots of different backgrounds, and I just think this discourages us from taking ‘at-risk’ student-athletes. Some people aren’t as prepared as others when they first come to college, but we can help them. That’s supposed to be our goal, right?”

The Vols’ lost scholarship — assuming the problem is resolved by next year — will become a more complex issue if All-Southeastern Conference forward Tyler Smith returns for his senior season. Smith declared for the NBA draft but didn’t sign with an agent, leaving open the possibility to return.

Several close to the program hope Smith will come back to school. If he does, though, the Vols will have 13 scholarship players back from last season, and that figure accounts for Pearl’s recent announcement that Class of 2008 signee Daniel West won’t be with the program. The NCAA Clearinghouse sidelined West last fall — after he’d enrolled at UT — and the player chose to stay in school at his family’s expense in hopes of re-earning a scholarship for next season.

Former East Ridge High School star Phillip Jurick has been the subject of transfer rumors. His departure would solve the Vols’ possible scholarship crunch, though Pearl said he wants the redshirted 6-foot-11 center to stay in the program.

Multiple attempts to contact Jurick haven’t been successful, but several close to the player have indicated concern for his future role with the team.

“I knew when we signed Philip that his best basketball was in front of him, and I still believe that,” Pearl said. “I still believe he’s got a bright future, if he continues to work hard and progress like he’s done so far. I’d like to see him develop in our program.”

With one glaring exception — baseball’s 898 — every other UT program had multi-year APR scores of 932 or better. Men’s tennis and men’s track and field were the only other programs with scores below 940.

Baseball won’t be handed the maximum 10 percent scholarship reduction again next season, though, because its average score jumped nine points from last year. It will lose just 0.33 of its 11.7 possible scholarships next season.

“I think we’ll have another good score this year — we’re on track to, anyway,” second-year UT baseball coach Todd Raleigh said. “Hopefully we won’t have to talk (negatively) about the APR again this time next year.

about Wes Rucker...

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