1. Southern Indiana
2. Cal State-Bakersfield
3. Alabama A&M
4. Saint Rose (N.Y.)
5. Virginia Union
6. Indiana (Pa.)
7. UC Riverside
8. St. Anselm (n.H.)
9. Eckerd (Fla.)
10. Northern Kentucky
IT WAS halftime of the 1995 Division II national title game, and
Southern Indiana was halfway to humiliation, getting waxed by UC
Riverside 39-21 on national TV. In the locker room a calm
Southern Indiana coach Bruce Pearl simply said, "If there's
anyone who doesn't think we'll win this game, leave now."
Everyone stayed, and the Screaming Eagles ran away to a 71-63
win. "Getting down by that much was tough," says Pearl, "but I
had already been through much worse."
What he had already been through was perhaps the ugliest
recruiting scandal in college basketball history. In the fall of
1988, Pearl, then an assistant at Iowa, was trying to reel in
Deon Thomas, a 6'8" forward from Chicago's Simeon High. Pearl
says that Thomas made a verbal commitment to Iowa in November.
But by Christmas, Pearl was concerned because Thomas had told
him that Illinois was dangling a meaty package before
him--$80,000 and a Chevrolet Blazer--according to Pearl.
Pearl decided to fight back by taping a telephone conversation
in which Thomas seemed to confirm that Illinois had offered him
the goods. Pearl turned the tape over to the NCAA, and the
battle was on. Later Thomas denied that Illinois had made such
an offer, saying he was just trying to get rid of Pearl. Thomas
then claimed it was Pearl who had offered him money, not Illinois.
The controversy flared when Illinois visited Iowa on Jan. 29,
1990. During the game, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale told viewers
that Pearl had committed "coaching suicide" and that his taping
of the call was "totally unethical."
How, Pearl wondered, could shining a flashlight on cheating be
unethical? "I'm still not comfortable with my methodology,"
Pearl says. "But I thought exposing this was necessary for
Few Illinois fans agreed. Hate mail, death threats and harassing
phone calls became common. As the stress built, Pearl's wife,
Kim, had a miscarriage. At the Iowa-Illinois game on Jan. 28,
1991, in Champaign, some fans chanted, "Pearl's a narc." The
NCAA ultimately found Illinois not guilty of wrongdoing in
Thomas's recruitment but did sanction the Illini for other
Clearly it was time for Pearl to leave Iowa City. But Winthrop
(S.C.) University and Brown were the only two Division I schools
that would even interview him, and only Southern Indiana made
him an offer, in May 1992. "A lot of programs didn't want to
touch me," Pearl says. "I had a blemish. That's why I'm so
indebted to the leadership here. They said, 'This guy stood up
for what he believes in.'"
Pearl has the faithful in Evansville believing that the Eagles
can win a second straight championship. To get that done, he'll
need another outstanding season from forward Stan Gouard. Last
season as a junior, "Superman" Stan was named Division II Player
of the Year after averaging 18.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
Pearl first saw the 6'6" Gouard play in June 1992, at a
summer-league game in Champaign, of all places. Bruce told Kim
that Gouard was the best player on the floor. Even better than
the guy guarding him--Deon Thomas, then a junior at Illinois.
At one point Thomas turned to the baseline. Then he froze, his
eyes fixed on Bruce and Kim, who were staring right back. "It
was like a stupid children's contest," Kim says. "But he turned
away first. When he did, I nudged Bruce and said, 'We won.'"
Pearl signed Gouard, and now the coach, at age 35, has a chance
to improve upon his phenomenal lifetime record of 79-15.
Coaching suicide, Dickie V? Not on your life.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM BROWN Pearl and Gouard have taken the Eagles to the top of the division. [Bruce Pearl watching Stan Gouard practice]