Pulling for Pearl

New coach hits right notes with Lofton, teammates

Chris Lofton had never heard of Bruce Pearl a week ago.

By 3:30 p.m. Monday, Lofton felt like he had just met the coach who will eventually lead Tennessee basketball to an NCAA tournament.

"That's what drives you, just being in games like that, just being in the tournament," Lofton said. "That's my whole dream."

Pearl lived that dream as Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach this past season.

Lofton has a feeling Pearl, introduced Monday as UT's new head coach, can work the same kind of magic on the Vols.

"I really do feel a lot better about him coming in," UT's star freshman said. "He likes to shoot the threes and that's right up my alley. That's what I like to do."

So Vols' fans can stop worrying.

There was a fear Lofton might be a candidate to transfer after former coach Buzz Peterson was fired March 13.

The Maysville, Ky., native went home for spring break to be with his parents and think about his future. After Monday, there's nothing left to think about.

"I had some thoughts (about leaving), but then I thought about having to sit out a year, and I just couldn't do it," he said. "I feel really positive and I think it's going to be all right.

"Everything works out for a reason."

It was unanimous.

Player after player expressed a sense of relief with the Pearl announcement.

"I think it was a great choice," junior point guard C.J. Watson said. "I can't wait to play for him."

Pearl met with the team an hour before his 3 p.m. press conference on Monday.

"We just talked about style of play and what he wanted," Watson said. "I feel a lot better. We've got a coach and he likes to play the style I like, up-tempo and run-and-gun.

"As long as everyone buys into the system, I think we'll be fine."

Senior-to-be Andre Patterson is already sold.

"That style, that's what I love to play," he said. "That's what I've played all my life. This year was kind of tough with the half-court offense. I never really got used to it.

"Hardnosed defense, pressing up and down the floor and just using athleticism - you can't get any better than that."

Sophomore Dane Bradshaw liked Pearl the man as much as Pearl the coach.

"The thing that impressed me is the way he comes off as a coach and a person," Bradshaw said. "The way he was reflecting on having to tell his team at Milwaukee goodbye the other day, how much he appreciated them and how he wouldn't be here without them.

"It showed there was a mutual respect between the coach and the players."

Pearl's style of play - with an emphasis on pressing teams into submission - is just another bonus as far as Bradshaw is concerned.

"I think that's exactly what everyone wants," he said. "One thing he mentioned was people aren't going to be playing 38 minutes a game anymore. We're going to be using our bench and wear people down.

"I think he's a strong believer in that, and with his history, I don't think anybody is going to second-guess that."

Players sat in the front row as Pearl was introduced. Most leaned forward in their seats hanging on every word from a coach who has never had a losing season.

"I was really impressed," Patterson said. "He set a really good tone with us. He seems like someone you can relate to and will have an open-door policy.

"He's a winner. Bottom line, he's a winner. And that's what matters."

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