"Daddy's Boy, Daddy's Boy!"
LSU fans heckled Tennessee redshirt junior Steven Pearl from the time he entered the game in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday night.
Pearl smiled back at the fans and proceeded to hold star player Tasmin Mitchell without a basket for the 10 minutes he guarded him.
That smile was unmistakable; it's the same grin his father - UT coach Bruce Pearl - flashes at fund-raising events.
The good times on the floor, however, have been few and far between for the Vols' father-son combination over the past four years.
Steven Pearl struggled to find playing time on a UT team that has gotten more talented with each signing class. Heading into Tuesday's game (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.) at Vanderbilt, he knows he'll get his minutes in the rotation.
"Steven's not looking over at the bench every time he makes a mistake because he knows he's going to get his minutes, and that makes a difference,'' Bruce Pearl said. "But he had a role before he had playing time, and it was to be the opponents' best player in our practices.
"He has played a part in our winning championships because he was always our best practice player, and he competed in practice every day; Those practices were his games.''
Steven Pearl admits it was difficult at times.
"Now that I'm getting into the games, playing for my dad is a lot easier,'' Steven Pearl said. "The first couple of years, always on the scout team, it could get really tough. In practice, he'd get on me all the time.''
Bruce Pearl knew he had to if his son was ever to see any meaningful minutes as a part of the perennial top 25 program he has built over the past 4 1/2 seasons.
It didn't make things any easier for Steven Pearl when many of the players in the class he came in with - Duke Crews, Marques Johnson, Ramar Smith and Josh Tabb - left the team for various reasons. Only senior Wayne Chism remains from that signing class.
"That has made it kind of tough, because those were all cool guys, even with some of the trouble they may have had,'' Steven Pearl said. "Me and Wayne have been through a lot together.''
Steven Pearl and Chism are still going through a lot together, battling shoulder to shoulder in SEC games.
After appearing in just six league games for a total of 10 minutes last season, Steven Pearl has played in all eight of UT's SEC games this season and averages 11 1/2 minutes an outing.
"Steven has his limitations, we know that,'' Bruce Pearl said. "But he does what he does, and when he goes in there, there's not a drop-off on the defensive end.''
It fits into the makeshift defensive identity the No. 14 Vols (18-4, 6-2 SEC) have formed since the dismissal of All-SEC forward Tyler Smith prior to conference play.
It has worked into the Vols' offensive chemistry, as well.
"It's another guy playing his role and maybe not looking for his shot so much,'' Bruce Pearl said. "Sometimes less is more.''
Steven Pearl's on-court maturation has been a process; he's hardly the same player who graduated from West High School four years ago.
When Steven Pearl came into the UT program as a freshman, he weighed 200 pounds and bench pressed 175.
After four years in the strength program under Troy Wills, Steven Pearl weighs 230 and ranks as the strongest member of the team, bench-pressing 350.
Still, he has had his walk-on moments this season, starting 1-for-9 shooting from the free-throw line and getting some of his first few shot attempts blocked .
"The free throws were all mental,'' Steven Pearl said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. "It's like I know I can make them, because I make them all the time in practice. It was just a matter of getting more comfortable.
"You can tell when your teammates and coaches believe in you, and that's what has made me relax a little bit.''
Pearl dished a highlight-worthy, behind-the-head pass to Chism against South Carolina Saturday, and he's scoring more regularly with reverse layups, using the rim to shield his shots from potential blocks.
But defense is where he has really shined; at Georgia, Pearl drew three fouls on Georgia post Trey Thompkins, against Vanderbilt, he drew a foul that sent 7-2 post A.J. Ogilvy to the bench with his second foul early in the first half.
ESPN broke down Steven Pearl's solid defense against LSU, too, showing replays of his solid positioning.
"Crafty" is a good word to describe the coach's son, even if his contributions don't jump out in the boxscore.
"The last three or four games, I've really felt good out there,'' Steven Pearl said. "I realize I can't just go out there to log minutes, so I've got to make plays.''
Pearl had four steals in 12 minutes in the 61-60 win over Florida. And when he fouls shooters, he gets his money's worth, ensuring their shots rarely fall.
"Steven is a totally different player than when he first came to Tennessee,'' said former UT player Ryan Childress. "He's confident and he's doing all the little things that may not show up in the boxscore.''
Steven Pearl's experience playing for his father's team that won the gold at the Maccabi Games in Israel over the summer has been another key in his development.
"Prior to playing this season, that was the most fun I'd had since high school,'' Steven Pearl said. "Sure, there were times earlier in my career I might have second-guessed playing for my dad.
"You go out to places, and you hear things, about how you're only on the team because of your last name,'' he said. "But that only motivated me to keep working hard.''
Now, when Steven Pearl is reminded - like at LSU, with the chant of "Daddy's Boy'' - he merely smiles.
After four years of struggling to find a role on the team, the taunts in rival arenas are music to his ears.
Tatum Sidelined: UT sophomore wing Cameron Tatum is not expected to travel with the team to Vanderbilt as a result of the ankle injury he suffered in the first half of Saturday's win over South Carolina.
Tatum has undergone a variety of diagnostic tests, the results of which have yet to be released.