Bruce Pearl left the Bearden High School gym to applause and cheers of “Bruuuuce!”
The former Tennessee men’s basketball coach showed up for the championship game of the Pilot Rocky Top League game with his wife and daughters to see his son, Steven, play for victorious Choice Spine on Wednesday night.
“Tonight was about me coming out to see my son play and supporting the guys we recruited to Tennessee who have played hard for the Vols,’’ Pearl said. “These guys are well-seasoned now, and they’re ready to play.’’
Pearl, who was fired by former UT athletic director Mike Hamilton on March 21, helped get the Rocky Top League off the ground some 5 ½ years ago. Pearl shared the concept with league commissioner Andre Whitehead, who continues to manage it.
“I knew people would want to see these games, because of the success we had with a similar league in Iowa,’’ Pearl said.
“The fans want to see the new players, the development of the returning players and the former Vols.
“The only thing I didn’t anticipate was the immediate level of interest and the standing-room-only crowds.’’
Pearl said the only remaining frontier for the league that he sees would be if it were picked up by a cable television channel.
Pearl’s presence at Bearden on Wednesday night created a ripple of excitement, even among the players.
“I think it’s really good that Coach Pearl is here and he can see how much we’re all improving,’’ said UT rising sophomore Jordan McRae. “I’m not really upset I didn’t play more for him my first year, because while I think I was ready physically, I don’t believe I was really ready mentally.’’
Pearl had attended games the past four years, as by NCAA rule he was allowed to watch his son compete in the summer league.