“It sounds to me like (Ohio State freshman point guard) Aaron Craft was upset and came up with this after we beat them (in March of 2010) in the Sweet 16,” said Bobby Maze, referring to Pearl’s illegal contact with Craft at a September, 2008 cookout at Pearl's home.
Maze, the starting point guard on the 2009-10 Vol squad that made the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, considers the excessive phone calls and the coach’s admitted lies to NCAA investigators to be minor infractions when compared to the corruption elsewhere in college basketball. He says some agents and schools offer elite-level recruits large sums of money.
“I've been offered money, guys I know have taken it. To me, phone calls are all small,” Maze said. “And we have to be honest; you might catch (anyone) at a bad time and back them into a lie. At least he (Pearl) admitted it. A crime is a crime but taking a Snickers bar ain’t like robbing a bank.”
Regardless of the NCAA rules Pearl may have broken that led to his dismissal on Monday, Maze believes Tennessee's players and fans will remember the coach’s passion, his commitment to the school and the role he played in resurrecting a basketball program that had long been mired in mediocrity.
“Money doesn’t bring happiness,” said Maze, who now plays professionally in Lithuania. “Coach could have left and gotten more money from Memphis (after Tiger head man John Calipari left for Kentucky two years ago) but he always said he wanted to end his career at UT. For him to be fired, dismissed, whatever they’re calling it, that’ll be with him forever.
“Coach is definitely one of the greatest men that I have ever met - kind, loving, loyal. He took me in like his own son. This is a sad day for Tennessee.”