Don’t ask Cuonzo Martin a question if you can’t handle the truth.
Tennessee’s new men’s basketball coach lived up to his reputation of “keeping it real” when asked how the Vols might fare next season with one of the toughest schedules in the nation on tap.
“The success level we have depends on how many games we win, and I can’t really give a gauge on that, it has a lot to do with Scotty (Hopson) and Tobias (Harris) and whether they return,’’ Martin said Tuesday. “I think with the schedule we have, if we have those guys, it’s a good schedule.’’
Teams like Duke, Kansas, Georgetown and UCLA await UT at the Maui Invitational, national champion Connecticut comes to Knoxville, and the Vols have road trips to Oakland (Mich.), College of Charleston and Memphis.
Having All-SEC guard Hopson back for a senior season and Freshman All-American forward Harris would improve UT’s chances of making a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament.
But Martin wants what’s best for the players first and foremost, to the point he is excusing Hopson’s absences from UT workouts.
Hopson missed Monday’s session because he is in New Jersey working out in preparation for NBA tryouts. Martin said he anticipated Hopson would return to Knoxville, but he did not specify when.
UT associate director for media relations Tom Satkowiak said Hopson has notified all of his professors and made arrangements to complete his assignments and class requirements.
Hopson and Harris will declare themselves eligible for the NBA draft by the April 24 deadline and have until May 7 to announce intentions to return and maintain eligibility, provided they don’t sign with agents.
“I don’t think you can rush guys to make a decision; this is their lives and their futures,’’ Martin said. “They have to get the best information possible to make a decision, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
“I think they’re going to be pros whether it’s this year or next year . . . it’s at what level and for how long.’’
UT’s recruiting will be affected by the players’ decisions. Martin said he wants at least 10 players on scholarship. The Vols have nine counting Harris and Hopson.
Martin said he doesn’t utilize more than “nine or 10” players in his rotation.
“At Missouri State we like to say we played six and three-fourths,’’ Martin said. “Five starters 30-plus minutes, one guy 25 minutes, and three guys five or 10 minutes depending on how things went down.’’
Martin will watch film of all the returning players, but he said starting positions and playing time would be based on practice performance and effort.