DAYTON, Ohio -- Tennessee's basketball team was more than 300 miles from Knoxville when Auburn announced it had hired Bruce Pearl, the Volunteers popular former coach who was fired amid an NCAA investigation in 2011.
While Pearl's surprising return to the SEC certainly was the story of the day, Tennessee is focused on Wednesday night's NCAA tournament game against Iowa in Dayton.
"I'm happy for Bruce and his family, but other than that, my main concern is Tennessee basketball," Vols third-year coach Cuonzo Martin told the Times Free Press before his team's practice on Wednesday afternoon. "It's the most important thing. We're excited to be in the NCAA tournament. I'm happy for our fans, our players, the university. Now we're trying to win a basketball game."
Pearl took Tennessee to the NCAA tournament in all six of his seasons in Knoxville, and the Vols made a couple of Sweet 16 runs in 2007 and 2008 and reached the Elite Eight in 2010.
For lying to NCAA investigators about recruiting violations committed in 2008, Pearl was slapped with a three-year show cause penalty in August 2011. The letter bans him from all recruiting until it expires. Auburn will have to go before the NCAA to contest the final five months of the restrictions or accept them.
Auburn is slated to visit Tennessee next season.
Two players -- forward Jeronne Maymon and guard and leading scorer Jordan McRae -- remain from Pearl's final two teams, and both were asked about Pearl's hire at their news conference on Wednesday.
"We ain't got no comments on the Auburn situation," Maymon said after a slight chuckle.
"What Jeronne said," McRae then quipped.
Amid much negativity around the program, Martin and the Vols recovered in time to make a late season surge to get one of the NCAA tournament's last at-large bids.
Per NCAA rules requiring teams to bus to their tournament site if its less than 350 miles away, the Vols bused to Dayton on Monday, and were there when the Tigers moved on Pearl, who's worked as an in-studio analyst for ESPN and stayed in Knoxville since his Tennessee tenure ended.
"What I do with my guys," Martin said, "we talk life skills, we talk different things that'll go on in life, ups and downs, highs and lows, someone being diagnosed with cancer in your family, losing a loved one. You're talking about distractions.
"We don't necessarily see [Pearl] as a distraction. It's life. You can't run from life. Life is what it is, so it's always great teaching moments for me as a coach whenever something takes place.
"That hadn't been our focus here. That's not even our focus as a basketball team. We're trying to win an NCAA tournament game."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...