Nov. 4, 2009
By Tom Satkowiak, Associate Sports Information Director
That's the only accurate way to describe Scott Gianopoulos' reaction after he felt the hand on his shoulder and heard the following angry query: "Hey Scott, how come you haven't called me?"
It was halftime of the Tennessee-Ohio football game on Sept. 26, and the UT sophomore had returned to campus--crutches and all--after undergoing surgery in his hometown of Chicago to remove a tumor in his hip. He hadn't even heard the unexpected visitor enter the press box booth where Scott and his father were watching the game.
"I thought it was a friend coming to see me, but I turned and it was Bruce," Gianopoulos said. "My face lit up. He yelled at me for not calling him back like he asked me to. Again, it was awesome that he came to see me. I had no idea he was even up there in the press box. It's really cool that he took the time to do that and that he remembered me."
Yes. He was talking about that Bruce.
A few weeks prior, Gianopoulos had received an unexpected phone call from the Vols fifth-year head coach after Pearl became aware of the Sports management major's second battle with cancer. Gianopoulos successfully battled Ewing's sarcoma in 2007 before having a recurrence this past August, forcing him to temporarily withdraw from UT, return home and start the fight all over again.
"I was just sitting at home watching Sportscenter one day when my phone rang," Gianopoulos recalled. "I didn't recognize the number and when I answered he said, `Hey! This is Bruce.' I was thinking, `Bruce who?' Then he said it was coach Pearl and I was blown away. I was pretty shocked and didn't say too much at first--he did most of the talking."
Coach Pearl doing most of the talking? Surprise, surprise.
But what may actually come as a surprise to many fans is just how often the two-time National Coach of the Year--a coach who has led three of his last five teams to the Sweet Sixteen--reaches out to folks who need a pick-me-up or an encouraging word.
Who better to motivate someone to endure a second grind of chemotherapy treatments than a man who has motivated an entire fan base on Rocky Top and returned Tennessee basketball to the elite status it once enjoyed when guys named Ernie and Bernie were barnstorming the Southeastern Conference?
It's something Pearl makes a point to do whenever possible--often preferring to do so without any media fanfare. And the impact it has on those he touches is remarkable.
"It has been so great," Gianopoulos said. "I never would have thought that someone as busy as coach Pearl would take time out to talk to someone they don't even know. I'm sure he is really busy with basketball, so I thought it was awesome that he called me and then sat with me for a little while at the football game. He showed that he really cares.
"A lot of famous people do things like that for the attention--but no one was around then. It was cool that he wasn't doing it to look good; he was just doing it because he cares."
Editor's Note: As of Nov. 1, Scott Gianopoulos was undergoing his third round of chemotherapy for his second bout with Ewing's sarcoma. He plans to return to UT in the fall of 2010 to resume his sophomore year. And next time coach Pearl tells him to call him back, he will!