Its teestiing tiiiiiiime!!! (Ok, I admit, I watched Jersey Shore and think “Its T-Shiiiirt tiiiiiime!” is hilarious.) Anyway, finals for the students began on campus Thursday and run through next week. This is a very important time for our student-athletes. We not only have a lot of guys that are getting close to graduating, but Coach Pearl demands that our players compete in the classroom just as they do on the basketball court. As the head coach, Coach Pearl tries to put our players in positions to be successful on the court and in the classroom. He puts forth a lot of effort to oversee the academic progress and success of our players by utilizing numerous University resources, staff and his biggest asset…playing time.
At least 12 credits, 8 hours of study hall, tutor appointments and meetings with members of the Faculty Mentor program are all things on the players’ academic schedule that is handed out as soon as our team arrives on campus in August. In addition, we encourage guys to be early to class, sit in the first two rows, not texting, take off their hats and ask question. Kelly Brock, our team academic advisor, does a great job of helping our guys organize their schedules and monitoring their academic progress. In addition, Coach Pearl asks his staff to divide up our players so that each of us have a couple players for whom we are responsible for knowing their academic schedule like the back of our hand. This enables our staff to hold our players accountable for getting to their classes, appointments and striving to become Vol Scholars. It’s one thing to just say “We expect you to do well in the class room,” but Coach Pearl strongly believes that we must show our players we truly care about their academic success. One way to do this is by being able to ask a player, “Are you ready for your test next week?,” “How was study hall today?,” “Is your paper that’s due Friday going well?” Knowledge is power. If we, their fatherly figures while here on campus, can show our players we know what’s going on in their academic world it forces them to give their academics more attention.
Despite the numerous measures our staff and academic support team take to help our players be successful in the classroom nothing is as powerful as Coach Pearl’s willingness to give playing time to those who meet our academic expectations. Don’t get me wrong, if Chris Lofton had a 2.8 GPA while he was here but some walk-on had a 3.4 GPA, Chris Lofton would undoubtedly still play. Coach Pearl uses his playing time hammer when it’s close at a position. If two guys are battling for the same starting spot or back-up position, the first thing Coach Pearl goes to is their “academic stat sheet.” The guy who is meeting or exceeding Coach Pearl’s academic expectations, hasn’t missed any classes/study hall and is on top of their assignments will play. The guy who isn’t wont. Simple as that, and all our players know it.
Therefore, we took the University’s study day, Wednesday, off so that our guys could get off to a good start. We then got back together on Thursday for a tough conditioning practice led by assistant coaches Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay. I know I’m biased but I thought these guys did an excellent job. There was good “pop” (energy) and purpose to the practice. More importantly, I thought our guys showed great respect to the staff and responded well through the adversity that we faced when a line was missed during sprints after a tough defensive shell drill. After guys battled through a defensive slides drill, Coach Jones hollered “What’s our identity?!” The players were too tired to respond so he yelled it again. “What’s our identity?!” Finally a few guys answered back, “Defense and rebounding.” That’s the answer we were looking for. That’s our focus. That’s how we are going to win games. There are going to be times when our offense isn’t clicking or we aren’t making shots. It’s tough to make tons of shots on the road. Shoot, you think it’s going to be easy when we go on the road to hostile environments and face tough teams like Pitt? BUT, your effort defensively and in rebounding will you get you through those moments. That has to never waiver because it’s a mentality, it’s effort, it’s what you can control and it’s what we are demanding both on the floor and in the class room.
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