“It was evident early in his playing career he would be a leader in some type of profession,’’ said Keady, who served as an executive advisor for St. John’s staff this season. “He’s the best leader I ever had as a player.
“He’s almost like a son to me.’’
Martin will be introduced today as the 18th coach in UT men’s basketball history.
He replaces Bruce Pearl, who was fired last Monday as a result of the fallout from an NCAA investigation.
Martin, 39, coached the past three years at Missouri State, compiling a 61-41 record while leading the Bears to the school’s first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship this season and a 26-9 mark.
Martin began his coaching career in 2000 working under Keady, and he stayed on the staff when Keady retired in 2005 and Matt Painter took over.
“He’s a class guy that works hard,’’ said the 74-year-old Keady, a six-time National Coach of the Year and the second-winningest coach in Big Ten history. “He’s gone through all of the hard knocks of moving up in the coaching ranks. He has great integrity and will be very easy to work with.’’
Martin is among seven active NCAA coaches who played or coached under Keady, joining such notables as Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, Illinois’ Bruce Weber and St. John’s Steve Lavin, all of whom placed their team in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Keady remembers that when the 6-foot-6 Martin played for him, from 1991-95, he was like a coach on the floor.
“We’d get in there at halftime, and he’d have everything solved,’’ Keady said. “We didn’t even have to talk to the players. Of course, we had (All-American) Glenn Robinson playing, so that helped.
“He was a lot like Kevin Stallings in that he listened as a player, and he was always attentive to detail.’’
Martin helped lead Purdue to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1994 and 1995, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors his senior year.
Martin set a school record in a 1994 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game at Thompson-Boling Arena, making eight of 13 attempts beyond the 3-point arc against Kansas, a record that has since been tied by Robbie Hummel.
Martin, known as a defensive stopper and 3-point marksman during his playing career at Purdue, still holds the school record for most consecutive games played (127).
“I really thought Missouri would be his opportunity because he’s from East St. Louis (Ill.),’’ Keady said, referencing the vacancy at Missouri. “When Tennessee offered, and I talked to one of the people from the (UT) administration (Saturday) night, I thought he would have a great shot.
“He’s very sociable, will be good with alumni, and he’s a player’s coach.’’
Keady said he always has been impressed by Martin’s ability to fight through adversity.
“When he came here (Purdue) in 1991, he had horrible knees, and our trainer told me he’d never play here, but he worked and worked and got himself where he could be functionable,’’ Keady said. “He came back from Europe (Italy) playing pro ball and had (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and got that whipped.
“I told him, ‘You finish your degree, and I’ll hire you,’ and that’s how he got started.’’
Keady said he expects Martin will bring Tennessee some of the staples that he learned at Purdue, such as tough defense and rebounding.
“We did a lot of defensive drills, and we did a lot of block-out drills in our practices,’’ Keady said. “Rebounding drills, stance, helping each other on defense; I really would have liked to have pressed more, but we didn’t have enough quickness to stay with it.
“I think you will see good defense, they will rebound well, they will take good shots and they will work hard,’’ he said. “I remember when he was a sophomore he was 0-for-6 from the 3-point line, and then as a junior he made 88 (3-pointers).
“So he’ll expect his players to work hard in the offseason.’’