The voice mail on Bruce Pearl's cellphone immediately grabs the caller's attention. "Hello," you hear a familiar voice say, "this is Coach Bruce Pearl. ... "
Pearl is no longer coaching. Everyone knows that. The past year or so saw the public unraveling of Pearl's highly successful program at Tennessee. Finally, perhaps mercifully, UT fired Pearl last March.
Shortly thereafter, Pearl took the title "Coach" off his voice mail.
"My mom called me," he said last week, "and she said, 'You put that 'Coach Bruce Pearl' back on there. That's what you've been for 33 years. That's how your family and friends and kids that played for you know you.'"
The dutiful son returned "Coach" to his cellphone voice mail.
"Look," he said, "I've been called a lot worse."
Pearl returns to the college basketball scene this week as a host for a Sirius XM radio show. He and co-hosts Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com and Mark Packer will be in New York for the special, which airs 6-8 p.m. Monday on channel 91.
Scheduled guests for this show include coaches Rick Pitino of Louisville, Josh Pastner of Memphis, Kevin Stallings of Vanderbit and Scott Drew of Baylor. Xavier guard Tu Holloway is also scheduled for the show.
A show returns in January as a daily (noon to 3, Monday through Friday) look at college basketball.
Pearl confessed to mixed emotions about the show and the beginning of another college basketball season.
"It's been out of sight, out of mind," he said of the NCAA-ordered exile from college basketball. "So it's not been terribly painful. This week has been more difficult, I think, because it was probably my favorite time of year."
It's during this time that coaches practice their teams, learn about player strengths and weaknesses and plot how best to maximize the former and minimize the latter.
Because he got caught misleading the NCAA about prospects attending a barbeque at his home, Pearl was fired by Tennessee. He all but said the firing was an over-reaction by UT administrators.
"I answered 150 questions from the NCAA," he said, "148 I answered honestly. Two questions I did not answer honestly, and it cost me my job."
Pearl still has those hideous (to Kentucky fans) orange sports jackets he wore for games against UK and Vanderbilt. "I still love the Vols," he said.
Among the coaches who offered Pearl support was John Calipari of Kentucky. This comes as a surprise. As Pearl acknowledged, "There was an edge to our relationship as competitors."
Pearl at Tennessee and Calipari at Memphis fought a turf war. But there was admiration to be found.
As a Massachusetts native and Boston College graduate, Pearl noticed how Calipari made UMass basketball relevant.
"I'd put it in the top five jobs in the history of college basketball," Pearl said. "Because it wasn't much before he got there and it's not been much since he left."
Another SEC coach to reach out to Pearl was Billy Donovan. The Florida coach reminded anyone within earshot that everyone makes mistakes, that critics should be mindful that mistakes can carry real-life consequences.
The difference for coaches is that their mistakes come in public view.
"It's awful," Pearl said of public failure. "I can't even begin to tell you what a heavy thing this has been on my family, my parents, my children."
The Sirius XM radio show keeps Pearl involved. He's also doing shows with Tim Brando for Yahoo Sports and on stations in Nashville (104.5-FM) and Atlanta (970-AM).
Pearl will work as a studio analyst this season. He hopes to do color commentary at games in the future.
"This year, I feel I could be a distraction," he said. "If Florida and Kentucky are on CBS and if I was calling the game, would I be a distraction and take away from that game? Maybe."
As a game unfolds, the UK stats crew must make rapid-fire judgments. Assist? Who made the steal? Occasionally, a play puts doubt in the minds of those monks of the box score.
If there's doubt, Tom Smith will call out "Mark that" and the crew will discuss at the next timeout.
It would seem one such moment came in the Morehouse exhibition when Marquis Teague threw the ball off the glass for a trailing Terrence Jones to dunk. Pass? Or did Teague intend a shot?
"For a split second, you have to watch and see what happened," said Holly Ratliff, a member of the UK stats crew. But Smith did not hesitate to credit Teague with an assist.
"I thought immediately it was a pass," Smith said. "From where he was, he didn't make an attempt at the rim."
Here's something that might be news. Smith noted that the NCAA's official definition of an assist does not require that the label belongs solely to the pass that comes before a shot. Like hockey, statisticians can credit the next-to-last pass as an assist.
Former UK standout Patrick Patterson sat in the first row behind the Kentucky bench for the season opener against Marist. He said he'd been living in Lexington "for a while." He's undergoing physical therapy after having bone spurs removed from an ankle about two months ago.
As for the NBA lockout, Patterson is like many people. He's hoping for a settlement. He wants to resume his career with the Houston Rockets.
"All I can do is just wait," he said.
No one seems to know for sure what progress is being made in the labor talks. Patterson said he maintains a healthy skepticism about any report on the state of negotiations.
"Most of the time, they're wrong," he said.
The good news is that talks are ongoing.
Patterson, who greeted a stream of well-wishers and signed autographs at halftime, expressed hope for progress toward playing again.
"At the end of the day, you never know what's going to happen," he said.
Another signing period ends this week, and it's hard to look at the recruiting world the same way after reading George Dohrmann's Play Their Hearts Out.
The book, published in 2010, pulls back the curtain on the world of youth basketball. Exploitation. Profiteering run amok. More than once, the reader must set the book aside and ponder athletic aspirations robbing children of their innocence and adults of their good sense.
As another author, Leigh Montville, said of the book, "You'll never watch basketball the same way again."
Dohrmann, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on academic fraud at the University of Minnesota, now works as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. In the book, he follows a team of pre-high school aged players based in Southern California. Dohrmann chronicles a coach, Joe Keller, with dreams of grandeur and the — excuse the term — highly rated player he thinks can make them come true. The player, Demetrius Walker, is all of 10 when the book begins.
As this ill-fated story unfolds, Walker comes to hide in a bathroom rather than face the possibility of not living up to the hype. When Dohrmann asked Keller how he would view Walker if the player does not become a basketball star, the reader's heart aches when the coach responds, "Bad investment."
One chapter hits close to home. Dohrmann criticizes Clark Francis, a Louisville-based recruiting analyst, for ranking children as basketball players. The author suggests that Francis' player rankings are unduly influenced by friendships with youth coaches. Francis does not evaluate players as much as promote them.
It's a characterization Francis vehemently rejects.
"I take great offense to what he wrote," Francis said last week.
Francis, whom Dohrmann describes as "dowdy" and "built like a Weeble," sounded moved to violence.
"If I ever see the guy, I'm going to cold-cock him," Francis said. "Let him press charges. 'Hey, judge, this is what he wrote. I can't sue him. What would you do?' He'd probably throw it out."
Francis saw himself as someone unafraid to go against prevailing wisdom. For instance, he sees ballyhooed UConn freshman Andre Drummond as a potential flop.
Francis acknowledged that youth basketball is no perfect world. He said his rankings of players as young as elementary school students can help a child better appreciate the importance of education (as a component in getting a scholarship someday). The rankings can also be a detriment by placing undo pressure on children.
"If I had kids, would I put them out there playing AAU?" Francis said. "Maybe. Maybe not."
Meanwhile, Francis contemplates changing his approach to youth basketball. He said he's thinking about de-emphasizing recruiting tidbits: Who's visiting where, who's narrowed his list to what schools, etc, etc.
He's thinking of staging a national camp for middle-school players, who don't have the sense of entitlement of some high school stars.
"The players haven't been corrupted at that age," Francis said. "They actually play hard. It's the first time out. They have something to prove. They're very receptive to learning."
Easy come, easy go
While the SEC embraces Missouri as its newest member school, the Big 12 may not be overly concerned about losing Missouri.
That's the impression Kansas Coach Bill Self gave when asked last week about his fans being disappointed that a long, storied rivalry with Missouri may end.
"I don't really talk to fans, but the ones that have talked to me, they couldn't care less," Self said. "Our fans aren't going to determine what we do, but Missouri isn't going to determine anything we do either. This isn't being critical. We wish them the best. I hope that they're happy where they're at. There are no ill feelings about them leaving."
Self suggested the Big 12 could afford to lose Missouri.
"This isn't like Oklahoma or Texas leaving, either; a school that could break the league up," he said. "I'm happy with our league and wish they wanted to be a part of it but I'm not going to cry because they're leaving. They're doing what they want to do. But certainly when they do that, then people should understand that we get to do what we want to do, too."
The Kansas coach added, "I don't think anyone in our administration would be too excited about playing them right now at all."
No. 1 contender
Longtime analyst Brick Oettinger of the Prep Stars recruiting service saw UK's first three signees making a "top 10-caliber" class. That's Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley and Alex Poythress.
A fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class for Kentucky remains possible, he said.
"If Kentucky gets (Shabazz) Muhammad, they'd be a challenger for No. 1," Oettinger said. For now, he put Arizona as the prime contender for No. 1 class.
Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier's death last week inspired a humorous line from columnist Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Shaw quoted Muhammad Ali's famous comment on his third fight with Frazier, which was dubbed the "Thrilla in Manila." Said Ali: "That's the closest thing to dying I know of."
To which, Shaw wrote, "Little-known fact: Ali later amended that after watching Browns-Seahawks on DirecTV's 'Sunday Ticket.'"
To former Auburn coach Sonny Smith. He turns 75 on Tuesday. ... To former UK player Jared Prickett. He turns 38 on Monday. ... To junior Twany Beckham. He turns 23 on Monday.