Villanova coach Jay Wright talks about the Vols' win
NEW YORK - Villanova's Jay Wright became the first high-profile coach to take a public stand on behalf of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl on Friday.
"I have a lot of respect for him; I know he's a good guy - I do know it,'' Wright said following the Wildcats' 78-68 loss to the Vols in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. "I know he has integrity. And this business is tough. It can get to you.
"He might have slipped, but I admire the way he's handled it.''
Wright has a pretty good idea how Pearl and the Vols go about their recruiting, having gone head-to-head with Tennessee for two players who ultimately landed on the Villanova team: sophomore Dominic Cheek and freshman JayVaughn Pinkston.
It's possible both players were interviewed by the NCAA about how they were recruited by the Vols over the past three years.
Pearl and the basketball program have been under NCAA investigation as a result of an excess of 97 impermissible phone calls made between 2007 and 2009, and a Sept. 20, 2008, improper unofficial visit made to Pearl's home by three committed players.
Pearl complicated the situation by providing misleading testimony to NCAA investigators on June 14 before requesting a follow-up interview in which he came clean on Aug. 5.
Wright's stance goes against what the majority of former coaches now working in the media have stated in their role as television analysts.
Former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried and former St. John's coach Fran Fraschilla have both suggested the NCAA take further action, even after the unprecedented penalties the program is already facing.
Pearl has been suspended by SEC commissioner Mike Slive for the first eight games of the conference season.
UT's self-imposed sanctions include Pearl serving a one-year, off-campus recruiting ban - which began Sept. 24 - and a $1.5 million reduction in Pearl's salary over the next five years.
The NCAA's next step is for its enforcement staff to deliver a letter of allegations, expected next month, before the case moves to summary disposition and eventually before the committee on infractions, as early as February but more likely in April.
Wright had attended the Tuesday news conference where Pearl held court with the grizzled New York media for some 45 minutes, answering a number of NCAA investigation-related questions.
"I respect the way he's handling all of it,'' Wright said. "His team, man, he's doing a great job coaching.''
Pearl said it's his hope more attention will be placed on his team for its achievements.
"It would be good for people to write about these kids and how we play,'' Pearl said. "I think the focus should be shifted to our season and where we're at.''