It was one of many special moments at the sold-out team banquet at Knoxville's Marriott Hotel on Friday night.
"This is a celebration of our season,'' said Pearl, who led UT to its first Elite Eight in the program's history. "It's a time for us to laugh, and a time for us to cry.''
And there was a time during the ceremony when Pearl took the time to show his ambition for the program.
Pearl was presented a bench chair from the St. Louis Regional as a gift, but playfully cast it aside saying, "I want a chair from the Final Four.''
More than 800 UT supporters crowded into the ballroom to share an evening of presentations that began with UT great Bernard King being honored with the Mike Hamilton Volunteer of the Year Award.
"Being connected to Tennessee and Bruce Pearl is very special to me,'' King said. "I'll remember everything this team did this year for the rest of my life.''
Among the tales King playfully shared was the offense UT ran under coach Ray Mears: "Get the ball to Ernie (Grunfeld), and if he's not open, get it to Bernard, and if he's not open, get it back to Ernie.''
There was a serious tone moments later when trainer Chad Newman was presented with the Most Courageous Award.
"I want to thank God I was in the right place at the right time to help a beautiful young man,'' said Newman, who revived Emmanuel Negedu on Sept. 28, after the former player suffered a cardiac event in the UT indoor football complex. "All I could think about was how many lives he's touched.''
Negedu took the stage beside Newman, putting his arm around him before addressing the crowd.
"I believe in God, and if God thinks it's my destiny, I'll play again,'' said Negedu, who UT declined to clear to return for competitive action. "I know whatever happens, people here will worry about me, and I appreciate that.
"This will always be a part of my family, wherever I go,'' he said. "We're all going to die someday. If I die, I know I'm going to a better place in heaven.''
UT associate head coach Tony Jones thanked Negedu for his efforts and attitude.
"I speak for everyone when I say we want the best for you, and if that's to play basketball, that's what we want,'' Jones said. "And if that's not what's best for you, we want you back at the University of Tennessee.''
Indiana's administration recently rejected Negedu's bid to play for the Hoosiers, but New Mexico, UTEP and Nebraska remain among the schools showing interest in having Negedu play for them.
Steven Pearl, after being named the Vols' Most Improved Player, lightened the moment by poking fun at himself during his acceptance speech.
"I'd like to thank the fans,'' Pearl said. "Me going out there playing big minutes, it had to be tough to watch for a while.''
It was one of many self-deprecating moments, as coaches and players playfully jabbed at one another and themselves.
Strength coach Troy Wills said he often gets teased about his thick Southern accent.
"But I asked Skylar about it, and he says I sound just fine,'' Wills said.
Bruce Pearl capped the presentations by thanking his seniors and recognizing the entire team.
"I can look every player in the eye,'' Pearl said, "and I can tell them that without their contributions, we couldn't have done what we did.
"I know that just sounds good, but this year is was absolutely true.''
Vols' Futures: Wayne Chism said he has a future workout with the New Jersey Nets scheduled tentatively, while J.P. Prince has received interest from the New York Knicks.
Bobby Maze had a workout with the Knicks on Friday and was not in attendance at the banquet.
Former Fulton standout Quinn Cannington announced he will attend Wheaton (Ill.) College to pursue a doctorate degree in Psychology.
Here are the award winners from Friday:
Iron Dogs weightlifting awards: McBee, Kenny Hall, Steven Pearl, Wayne Chism
Highest GPA: Melvin Goins
Most courageous award: Chad Newman
Most improved player: Steven Pearl
Team before self award: Bone
Best attitude: McBee
Community service awards: Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum, Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall