Center of previous Pearl controversy: 'What goes around comes around'

By: Wes Boling / Peter Simeone Email
By: Wes Boling / Peter Simeone Email

GODFREY, Ill. (WVLT) -- The center of a 20-year old recruiting controversy involving Bruce Pearl says he isn't surprised the coach finds himself ensnared by the NCAA.

Former Illinois basketball player Deon Thomas says he remembers Pearl to be a "smooth operator" willing to do anything to gain a recruiting edge.

"He does what he feels he needs to do in order to gain that recruiting edge or get the players to feel closer to him," Thomas told the Sports Overtime team in a phone interview.

Pearl recruited Thomas as an assistant coach at Iowa. He secretly recorded the highly-touted prospect saying he had been offered money and a car by The University of Illinois, where he eventually became the all-time leading scorer.

Thomas denied being offered incentives to come to Illinois, claiming Pearl made up the accusation to try to get ahead in his recruitment.

Pearl turned in the recording to the NCAA, sparking a 16-month investigation which failed to implicate Illini assistant Jimmy Collins.

Thomas says Pearl's recent NCAA trouble is another example of his struggles with ethical recruiting.

"I'm not surprised about the situation that's going on now," Thomas said. "Unfortunately, people feel like they have to do things under the table to get ahead. When he was recruiting me...he was overzealous and trying to get ahead in the game.

"I think if he'd just have been himself, he would've been a lot more successful.

"When you do wrong, wrong will come back on you. That seems to be what has transpired now."

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