Cuonzo Martin focused on process, not record

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks with an official during Saturday's game against Pittsburgh at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2011

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks with an official during Saturday's game against Pittsburgh at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Tennessee men's basketball team has fallen below .500 for the first time in 6 ½ years, when the Vols finished 14-17 under former coach Buzz Peterson.

New UT coach Cuonzo Martin knows the numbers are what they are, with the Vols sitting at 3-4 heading in Saturday's home game with Austin Peay.

But Martin's not hitting any panic buttons or changing the game plan.

"I thought it was great for our guys to go against some of the best teams in the country,'' said Martin, whose Vols lost to top 10-ranked teams Duke and Memphis prior to Saturday's 61-56 defeat against No. 17 Pittsburgh (7-1) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"In the first seven games, to play teams of this caliber, it's good for our guys because you have to learn how to move forward.''

Indeed, Martin said in the days leading up to the season that his young team needed to "go through the fire'' before it could grow into the type of unit he envisions.

The Vols' four losses have come to teams with a cumulative 24-6 record, and the average margin of defeat to the three ranked opponents is 5.7 points.

But neither Martin, nor his players, are into consolation prizes nor excuses.

"We're in that next phase, people have seen us play well at times, so the cat's out of the bag,'' Martin said. "We have to play hard and with energy for 40 minutes, every time out.

"It's about having to get better every day.''

That's not coach speak. The obvious improvement from newcomers Wes Washpun, Josh Richardson, Dwight Miller and Yemi Makanjuola makes it clear that playing time is on the line for the incumbents.

Asked why senior Renaldo Woolridge didn't play against Pittsburgh, Martin mentioned the steady improvement Makanjuola has made at the post and the strong practices Miller has been having.

UT junior center Kenny Hall might have found his game in the nick of time. Hall responded to the push for playing time with eight points and a career-high 12 rebounds — and just two fouls — in his 27 minutes against the Panthers.

Vols senior Cameron Tatum is another example of a player taking the next step, recording the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday.

Tatum indicated he's playing with a sense of urgency.

"These are the types of games we've got to finish in order to become a good team,'' Tatum said. "That's what good teams do, they win the tight ballgames. We've got to find a way to start closing out.''

The Vols have shown comeback ability. UT trailed Memphis by 16 points before rallying to send the game into overtime in an eventual 99-97 double overtime loss in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Pittsburgh was up eight points with 1:46 remaining in Saturday's game when the Vols rallied, ending up with the ball and a chance to tie or win in the final seconds.

"Everybody was in the huddle and everybody was comfortable,'' Tatum said. "Everybody still had high hopes, high spirits, and thought we're not losing this game.''

Martin promised UT fans that toughness would become a staple of the program, and his message has resonated with his players.

"We're a reflection of our coach, and our coach told us not to give up,'' Vols point guard Trae Golden said. "We're not going to quit — we're not quitters.

"This is a learning curve for us; we can't put our heads down. We're going to continue to work hard, and we're right there, we're going to bust through the wall.''

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32

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Comments » 20

Volxc1989 writes:

Great game to watch. Disappointing ending but I feel like you have to be happy with the game they had. If they keep playing at this level and hanging with the big teams and get some high caliber recruits next year I think we'll soon be back to where we were a couple of years ago.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Moral Victory "U"..

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Before this season began, I seriously wondered if UT could get even moral victories against top-25 competition. But against three of them, Tennessee has put up three dogfights. And don't call this team moral victory U. Let's call them up-and-coming U. UT, that is.

VOLtage writes:

First time in my life that I can recall both football and basketball programs being below .500 at the same time.

redskinvol1 writes:

Finding a way to lose over and over again.Maybe next season.

Voller5 writes:

I am a huge Vol fan and I came into this season looking forward to it. I knew we could compete but I knew we weren't where we needed to be. Moral victories are not good. I don't know about y'all but I get pissed when we lose. I don't care if it is to the Lakers Im still cheering and coming into every game as if we are going to win. If you want to go watch a game and already think we are going to lose why watch it? We need to support the team win or lose but expect more. We can't accept moral victories if we ever want to win again. Get on the train now because Cuonzo will have this program up before you know it!

westknoxrepub writes:

Didn't this exactly same headline show up after the last round of losses? Martin needs talent, but he's recruiting scrubs. . .if he land Stokes there might be hope, but right now he just appears to be overloading on point guards.

richvol writes:

Tatum had a good game? Not the game I watched...not for a senior. He turns the ball over...does not have a good handle and his shot selection is horrible at times. He also gets beat too often on defense.

brod writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

Didn't this exactly same headline show up after the last round of losses? Martin needs talent, but he's recruiting scrubs. . .if he land Stokes there might be hope, but right now he just appears to be overloading on point guards.

mekanjuola and dwight miller were the best possible signees for martin last year and he got them both. it would help if we could have some more wayne chisms come through the state of tennessee, but there aren't any and haven't been any lately. we're not going to beat out unc, kentucky, ohio state and these other people for the highest profile big men recruits. keep it real. if you want to be pissed off at someone, be pissed off at hopson for leaving. and be pissed off at whoever showed that bbq picture to the ncaa. time to move on and support the program.

Ironcity writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

Didn't this exactly same headline show up after the last round of losses? Martin needs talent, but he's recruiting scrubs. . .if he land Stokes there might be hope, but right now he just appears to be overloading on point guards.

Heck we only have one PG so I hope he continues to load up on PGs

Ironcity writes:

in response to richvol:

Tatum had a good game? Not the game I watched...not for a senior. He turns the ball over...does not have a good handle and his shot selection is horrible at times. He also gets beat too often on defense.

I still think Tatum would be a great 6 man with orders to shot. He is a defensive liability and just isn't physical enough to be a three. That said he is the leader of this young team and does seem to do and say the right things.

RockVegas writes:

I think we look O.k considering all that's went on over the last year or so.I agree I don't see to many big name kids coming threw the state but a few kids with some size and we are going to be O.k. He will get the talent now that the NCAA has moved on and they know they will get to play.These guy's would look totally different if T.Harris and S.Hopson would have come back.I just hope he goes back to his roots in Chicago and St.Louis and brings some of those guys in,because they are Real Ballers.Remember coach Zo was a good player he'll get some players in just watch.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Moral Victory "U"..

Yeah, coming from a vandy boy, that's funny. How much do you get paid for TRYING to jolt recruiting? Whatever it is, it's too much, you're not very convincing.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to Voller5:

I am a huge Vol fan and I came into this season looking forward to it. I knew we could compete but I knew we weren't where we needed to be. Moral victories are not good. I don't know about y'all but I get pissed when we lose. I don't care if it is to the Lakers Im still cheering and coming into every game as if we are going to win. If you want to go watch a game and already think we are going to lose why watch it? We need to support the team win or lose but expect more. We can't accept moral victories if we ever want to win again. Get on the train now because Cuonzo will have this program up before you know it!

I agree, but the "moral victory" line is just a line used by trolls to degrade our program. LOSSES are not moral victories. In the Vols' case this year, these guys have LOST hard fought games. If they are fighting hard, and they lose to a team that's suppossed to be surerior, they LOSE, plain and simple. The "moral victory" BS that runs rampant on here is for trolls and fair weather fans. It's a tag used by sports writers to brand a team an underachiever. Neither UT's football, nor our BB program is underachieving right now. We have been through the fire, and need to emerge on an upward trajectory, for sure. BUT, until we re-recruit our mens teams back into competition level squads, we're out-manned, not underachieving.

Trolls and fair weather fans jump on the new coaches for their own idgit reasons, but somehow never want to address the roster issues we have currently. Don't buy into it. It's recruiting season and the POSERS are coming out of the woodwork because recruits read these sites. "Moral Victory" is one of their favorite little lines.

It's the Nobody expects UT's BB'ers to go undefeated, but you're right, we expect them to battle. And they are.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Navaloranges:

I agree, but the "moral victory" line is just a line used by trolls to degrade our program. LOSSES are not moral victories. In the Vols' case this year, these guys have LOST hard fought games. If they are fighting hard, and they lose to a team that's suppossed to be surerior, they LOSE, plain and simple. The "moral victory" BS that runs rampant on here is for trolls and fair weather fans. It's a tag used by sports writers to brand a team an underachiever. Neither UT's football, nor our BB program is underachieving right now. We have been through the fire, and need to emerge on an upward trajectory, for sure. BUT, until we re-recruit our mens teams back into competition level squads, we're out-manned, not underachieving.

Trolls and fair weather fans jump on the new coaches for their own idgit reasons, but somehow never want to address the roster issues we have currently. Don't buy into it. It's recruiting season and the POSERS are coming out of the woodwork because recruits read these sites. "Moral Victory" is one of their favorite little lines.

It's the Nobody expects UT's BB'ers to go undefeated, but you're right, we expect them to battle. And they are.

Very good...and I seldom re-post.

I for one have enjoyed every game so far. Even Oakland. Pitt. game was ugliest for us but we learned some things I think from it. We need to work on our inside D and rebounding and "battle" a little harder.

Anyhow Good post!

martinvol34 writes:

in response to VOLtage:

First time in my life that I can recall both football and basketball programs being below .500 at the same time.

You have a very short recollection.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Moral Victory "U"..

And you're a "moral loser". They have to learn to walk before they can run; these guys are all still "babies" in the major-college game.

tonyvick#213307 writes:

Is he conceding that they will lose most of the time?

klrigsby#1377153 writes:

Got to crawl before you walk, give the team time and everything will be ok.

writer#358485 writes:

We now have two very good coaches, both also very high-quality individuals, in men's basketball and in football. Both were dealt lousy hands by all the turmoil involving the NCAA and two lame-brained coaches that preceded them.. Hamilton had his many faults and I was glad to see him go. However, his last two major decisions, Dooley and Martin, most likely were his best.

Both Dooley and Martin are going about massive re-building jobs and both seem to be going about it the right way. Both also seem to be the type of individuals we can expect to hold when the wins start coming in bunches and other schools come looking--they both seem to be prepared to be Vols for Life.

I'm very optimistic about the future. We just need to ignore the "I want it now!" juveniles (and that's being generous) who post so often on these boards. The future looks very bright, though it will take awhile--probably longer in football because of the more complex recruiting task and the greater depth to which we had fallen after a weasel slunk of into the night. Go Vols!

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