KNOXVILLE — Allan Houston needed a bridge to be crossed.
And because Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and athletic director Mike Hamilton were willing to cross it, the UT basketball legend from 1990-93 will watch a banner bearing his name and No. 20 ascend to the top of Thompson-Boling Arena at halftime of the Volunteers’ game today against Kentucky.
“People ... might have thought because of the way it ended, they may have felt that I didn’t want to come back,” Houston said. “Probably the biggest thing was them just being fearless and saying, ‘Look, you’re a big part of this. We need you. What do you think? What should we do? We’re committed to it.’ And they weren’t just saying it. They were really committed. I had to find some forgiveness in my heart and move past it, and that was a part of it as well.”
Houston became the school’s all-time leading scorer with his father, Wade, as his coach. Second on the Southeastern Conference’s all-time scoring list, Allan was a two-time All-American and four-time All-SEC selection.
His dad was fired after the Vols went 5-22 in 1994. He had been an assistant at Louisville under Denny Crum and a figure Pearl looked up to as a young, aspiring coach.
“There was some honest kind of disappointment, resentment,” Allan Houston said. “I think that was natural, something that going to be unavoidable, inevitable.”
When Pearl was hired at UT in 2005, he and Hamilton made it a point to bring past players and coaches back into the fold. Houston’s number will be the third retired under Pearl, joining Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld.
“Pat Summitt’s the face of the Lady Vols, but there had been so much transition and turnover on the men’s side that there was really no face of Tennessee basketball,” Pearl said. “Great history, just there hadn’t been a lot of continuity.
“I wanted to reach out to former coaches, former players ... and say, ‘Look, this is still your team. This is still your program, and I know I didn’t coach you and I know I didn’t recruit and I know I don’t know you, but I want you to know ... we’re going to honor you by the way we play and how we play and the success we have.’ That’s why in some of the things that I’ve done to dishonor us, I’m obviously very disappointed in myself.”
Hamilton and Pearl went to New York in the summer of 2005 specifically to meet Allan Houston, now the Knicks’ assistant general manager.
“I think that was a huge step,” said Houston, who made two NBA All-Star teams and won a gold medal with the 2000 U.S. Olympic team in a career cut short by injury. “I just thought that they got it. After being around a program that really was a basketball program, I felt like they really understood what it took.
“When they came and we sat and we talked, we talked about the vision and keeping the ex-players engaged as well. I thought the people in Tennessee always appreciated the game of basketball, but I thought that they did a good job of making it a priority and making it important.”
Said Pearl: “This is a celebration of the Houston family. This is not just a celebration and our honoring Allan Houston.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...