Monday, July 20, 2009

Bruce Pearl has spent the majority of July in Israel coaching Team USA in the Maccabiah games. The gig is not as prestigious as Coach K leading the Olympians, Jamie Dixon coaching the U19 squad, or Bo Ryan's effort at the World University Games (the US beat Mexico 112-13).

But Pearl is Jewish, is coaching his son Steven, and the Games have given him an opportunity to bring his parents to Israel for the first time.

While this a great opportunity for Pearl's life outside of basketball - as a religious man and as a family man - the consequences of this trip on him as a coach could be huge. You see, the NCAA did away with April's AAU evaluation period, which means that the two evaluation periods in July have become that much more significant.

And Pearl was in Israel from July 6th-15th, the first July session. The second session begins July 22nd. The Maccabiah finals take place on the 21st, and Pearl will be flying straight from Israel to a tournament in Las Vegas.

How much of an effect this will have on Tennessee's recruiting is debatable. UT's assistants are still out on the road, Pearl will be around for the entirety of the second July session, and the kids the Vols are interested in have been told about Pearl's trip. But while Pearl is off on his Israeli vacation, "coaching" his team to 99 point wins, his assistants are in the stands recruiting against the likes of John Calipari, Josh Pastner, Rick Pitino, etc.

And it may have already burned him.

Josh Selby, a top 10 recruit in the class of 2010, has decommited from Tennessee. There are all kinds of theories out there as to why Selby made this decision. His mother has been quoted as saying that he made his decision too quickly (he commited in September) and wanted to reopen his recruitment to more schools.

But it seems as if there is more to the story. Selby and his family have a relationship with William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, a notorious college basketball power broker who has strong ties not only to John Calipari, the University of Memphis, and the University of Oregon, but he is closely affiliated with Nike (he is the guy that introduced LeBron James to Michael Jordan when James was a high schooler, an effort to get the young phenom to sign with Nike).

Kentucky, Memphis, and Oregon are all Nike schools. Tennessee is with Adidas.

Then there is the issue of Selby's cousins - Will and Antonio Barton - both signed with Memphis last month (although, this may not be a factor - they are related through Selby's father and Selby was raised by his mother).

It doesn't matter why Selby decommited. What matters is that a top 10 recruit decommited while Pearl was in Israel. Maybe Selby was gone regardless, but one thing that is for sure is that Pearl would have had a lot more influence on the decision had he been stateside.

This is not meant to criticize Pearl as a coach. This trip to Israel seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and is most likely in a quite fulfilling trip. But such is the life of a coach of a big time program.

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