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Vols' players: We want Bruce back

Coaching changes create other changes.

Bruce Pearl and Tobias Harris

That’s almost always the case in college sports these days, and it’ll almost surely be the case if Tennessee parts ways with men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

Several Volunteers — some potential NBA prospects, some underclassmen who could afford to sit out next season as transfers — said they weren’t sure where they’d play next season if Pearl left UT.

“Each and every one of us, including myself, supports Coach Pearl to the fullest,” said junior guard Scotty Hopson, the Vols’ leading scorer and a potential NBA draft pick this summer. “We want him back next year. Obviously, he’s a great coach, he’s a great mentor, and he’s a great person.”

Hopson said he wasn’t sure what impact a Pearl departure would have on the player’s future, but there’s no doubt who he wants to play for next season — if he returns as a senior.

“I hope, if he is here, I’m going to be here, definitely,” Hopson said. “I plan on being here.”

As for whether Pearl would be at UT if Hopson returned for his final season of eligibility, the player said, “I think so.”

“I mean, obviously, he’s done a lot for this program,” Hopson said. “I would expect him to be here next year.”

Hopson hasn’t exercised his one-time right to declare for the draft without hiring an agent — he could workout with teams and get a draft grade but could ultimately return to school — and most expect him to at least take that route.

Scotty Hopson: "I plan on being here" next season if Coach Bruce Pearl returns, too.

Minutes after ending his junior season with an embarrassing, 30-point loss to Michigan, Hopson said he had “not much of an idea right now” of how he’d handle the next few weeks and months.

“I’m definitely looking forward to finishing out my senior season and coming back next year,” Hopson said. “It’s not 100 percent settled, but that’s how I feel right now.”

Freshman forward Tobias Harris, also considered a potential first-round NBA draft pick, told GVX247 moments after the loss to Michigan that he didn’t foresee Pearl’s future being a major factor in his decision.

“It’s going to be either one way or the other,” Harris said.

Harris had previously hinted that Pearl’s future could be factor, though, and minutes later he admitted it again.

“I really don’t know yet,” he said.

Harris was also asked how much time he planned to take before making his NBA decision.

“I really don’t know yet,” he again said.

Jordan McRae: "I’m hoping that (Pearl) comes back. If he does, then I’ll be a Vol next year.”

Hopson and Harris aren’t the only Vols whose future could be tied to Pearl’s, though.

Some players, including junior guard Cameron Tatum and sophomore Skylar McBee, said they planned on playing for UT next season but hoped to play for Pearl.

“My anticipation is for Coach Pearl to be back, ...(but) as we all know, nobody knows,” Tatum said. “That’s what we’re going by, and that’s what we have to sit back and wait for.”

McBee didn’t hesitate before saying his future would be “at Tennessee.” Period.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Tennessee, and that’s where I’m planning on staying,” McBee said. “We’ll see what happens, but I plan on being a Vol. My dad told me a long time ago, ‘Don’t worry about things you can’t control,’ and that’s something that I don’t have a hand in, but I support Coach Pearl 100 percent. Wherever he’s at, I expect great things from him. I’m behind him whatever decision’s made.”

McBee said Pearl “tried to keep everything pretty positive” after the game.

“We’ve just got to look toward the future. That’s what it’s about,” McBee said. “He just talked about no matter what happens, we’re a family. We got through this tough year together, and what we need to do is stay together.”

But if they can’t stay together, some young players might want to leave the program.

Trae Golden: “If (Pearl's) the coach, I’m definitely going to be back. If not, I don’t know."

“Of course, I want to play for Coach Pearl next year, but he’s uncertain if he’s going to be here,” said mercurial freshman guard Jordan McRae, whose special skills on the court have been somewhat stunted by his maturation process — a fairly common issue with 18-year-old boys.

“I’ll just have to talk to my parents and see what goes on,” McRae continued. “Hopefully, I’ll be a Vol next year, but if not, we’ve got to wait and see how things play out. You’ve got to wait and see everything out and see what happens.

“Right now, I’m hoping that (Pearl) comes back. If he does, then I’ll be a Vol next year.”

Trae Golden, a freshman who was UT’s No. 2 point guard this season, made similar remarks.

“I think anybody who comes in and plays for Coach Pearl, if he doesn’t know he’s going to be back, it kind of puts a (question) in your mind if you’re going to be back or not,” Golden said. “If he’s the coach, I’m definitely going to be back. But if not, I don’t know. I’ve just got to talk to my family, and we’ve got to discuss things.

“Right now, I just have to talk to my family, and we’re going to have to decide about everything. But I honestly don’t know if I’m going to be back at Tennessee or not.”

Players seemed frustrated by the uncertainty.

McRae said he expected to hear the news “how everybody else does — from ESPN.”

“It’s a question mark for everybody,” McRae said.

Golden didn’t have a clue, either.

“To be totally honest, I have no idea,” Golden said. “I don’t know how the whole NCAA works or what (UT men’s athletic director) Michael Hamilton is thinking, but my anticipation is to just wait it out and see everything, how it goes.

“Coach just told us, basically, that he doesn’t know his status for next year, and he just told us that straight-up. That’s Coach Pearl. He’s going to tell you straight-up, and that’s what he said to us.”

Renaldo Woolridge’s situation was different from other teammates. Woolridge, a former four-star signee from Los Angeles, played very little as a junior — though he claims he could receive a redshirt from this season.

Asked what he’d do if Pearl left, Woolridge said, “I don’t know yet.”

“I didn’t really play this year, so I just want to play next year,” Woolridge said. “I just want to play next year, so whatever that means, I’ll do it.”

As for now, Woolridge said he and teammates are “just waiting” for news.

“I think we all are, because a lot of this stuff kind of comes up out of nowhere and we’ll see it on TV,” Woolridge said. “We’ll finally see what finally happens with it, and I think a lot of people will make decisions from there.”

One of UT’s seniors, just minutes after his college career ended with a humiliating loss on one of the game’s biggest stages, said he still “felt kind of bad” for the players who didn’t know their coach or maybe even their school for next season.

“I’m just glad I got to play for Coach Pearl,” the senior added.

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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