Amidst the firing of Bruce Pearl and more impending NCAA strife, it still didn’t take Tennessee long to hire a new men’s basketball coach. The Volunteers snagged Cuonzo Martin, who coached Missouri State to a National Invitation Tournament appearance this season.
Martin, who played college ball under Gene Keady at Purdue and went on to play a couple of years in the NBA, was an assistant at his alma mater before serving for three seasons at Missouri State. He was also rumored to be a part of several other open coaching searches, but wound up biting on the one that may have the most intrigue.
The NCAA investigation surrounding former Tennessee Bruce Pearl is well known by now, but what isn’t is what penalty the NCAA might levy against the Vols program. Martin says Tennessee officials gave him no indication that major penalties were on the way, so he’s not particularly worried about it.
Cuonzo Martin joined WGFX in Nashville with The Three Hour Lunch to discuss what the past few days was like, his early impressions of the team, why he chose Tennessee when he was rumored to be up for other gigs, where he learned his work ethic, what style of play he’ll implement at Tennessee, how current Vols players Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris should go about evaluating whether to stay or go pro and why he’s not concerned about pending NCAA findings.
What have the last few days been like?:
“These last three days, I think I’ve probably got six hours sleep combined.”
His impressions of Tennessee when he took his Missouri State team there this year:
“They have some talented players. I think the key now, with the guys returning, is to see how they fit with what we like to do. Their success is success, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. For us, it’s hard-nosed, man-to-man defense, a motion-style offense. … The talent is definitely there. There’s a core seven, possibly nine, guys.”
With perhaps multiple suitors, when did he know Tennessee is where he wanted to be?:
“My wife and I were constantly praying and having faith. This is a great situation. I just thought it was a great opportunity. There was a lot of speculation I would go other places, but this is where I wanted to be, this is where my wife wanted to be.”
On how he learned the work ethic that he preaches:
“I think that’s the biggest key as a basketball player. In high school, I was basically a center at 6-5, a slashing center. When I got to college I really had to develop my perimeter skills. … My junior and senior year I shot about 5,000 3-point shots a week and developed into a really good 3-point shooter.”
What kind of style will he use at Tennessee?:
“We’ll play a hard-nosed, aggressive man-to-man and run a motion offense with about 15 set plays. The key for us is scoring the ball at a high level, but not turning it over. That’s the biggest key. We don’t want to have 15, 16 turnovers a game, we want to keep it at or under 10.”
Will he use his experience as a pro player to help Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris make the decision to stay or go?:
“I’ve been there. Even though I didn’t play a long time, I’ve been there. What happens when you’re a very talented player, a great player, you want to be around great players. I think, for those guys, it’s to really test the waters and get a gauge for what the NBA scouts are saying. They also have to be true to themselves and really listen to what those scouts are saying. You can’t deny the fact they say you have a glaring weakness, you have to work on it. … You don’t want them to go into the draft and it doesn’t work out for them.”
Did the NCAA troubles that Bruce Pearl left behind play any role in his decision?:
“I think it’s a great situation. I think, for us, it’s building a program and being successful. I wasn’t really concerned with the NCAA. Once I talked to Mike and these guys and they said … ‘We’ll find something out in June and we think we’ll be OK. We might get here and there, but we don’t think it’ll be anything major,’ I was fine with that.”