- Tennessee introduces Cuonzo Martin as new head basketball coach
- Cuonzo Martin Q&A: Part One
- Cuonzo Martin Q&A: Part Two
- Jimmy Cheek and Mike Hamilton on the Cuonzo Martin hire
- AD Mike Hamilton on the end of Bruce Pearl's career at UT
- Roberta Martin on coming to Knoxville
- Knoxvillians respond to the hiring of Cuonzo Martin
“I told the guys I appreciated the fact that they were there at 11:30 at night; they didn’t have to be there,’’ Martin said. “I wish they did have to be there.’’
Martin’s comment drew a chuckle from the 200 or so media, boosters and fans on hand in the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena for the news conference introducing him as UT’s new coach Monday.
But the returning UT players weren’t laughing.
The message was sent: There’s a new sheriff in town, and still buffed at 6-foot-6, Martin can look most all of them in the eye when he addresses them in his deep voice.
Freshman All-American Tobias Harris was the only returning UT player who wasn’t present, as he went home to New York for the weekend after learning that his class on Monday was canceled. Harris is expected back today, according to his father, Torrel Harris Sr.
As disciplined as Martin’s style of play is on the court — reflected by Missouri State ranking seventh in the nation with only 10.3 turnovers per game — UT’s new coach is just as strict with off-the-court policies.
“Go to class, be on time; those things are very important,’’ Martin said. “It’s not just winning ballgames, it’s being successful on and off the court.’’
Martin said he learned those lessons while playing for the legendary Gene Keady at Purdue from 1991-95, and he’ll be quick to apply them to the Vols.
Judging from the reactions from juniors Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum, Martin has their attention.
“His ultimate goal here, recruit quality guys, and when guys leave here they become grown men and quality men and always come back to the university and see him as the coach and be welcomed back,’’ Tatum said. “We all need to buy in to whatever he does and whatever he brings to the table.’’
Hopson agreed, through he made it clear he won’t be sure if he’ll return for his senior year until after he is evaluated by NBA scouts and general managers in May.
“He’s definitely a straight-forward guy, a guy that’s going to keep it real,’’ Hopson said. “Guys are even talking about changing their numbers. It’s a new change, new face, guys seem happy right now, and I’m happy for them.’’
Hopson, along with Harris, will declare for the NBA draft before April 24 and both have until May 7 to withdraw and maintain eligibility, provided neither of them signs with an agent.
Martin said he supports Harris and Hopson, and he encourages them to make a commitment to whatever they choose.
“I talked to Scotty, I talked to Tobias, two quality young men, I think they will put their name in the draft,’’ Martin said. “I don’t think you can be one foot in, one foot out; I want them to go full-bore and try to be successful, and if not come back and be a part of the family.’’
Martin indicated the decisions Hopson and Harris make on their futures with the program could have a direct effect on the team’s summer basketball activity. The NCAA allows teams to take a “foreign tour” every four years, and the Vols are up in the rotation to take one this summer.
The trips allow the teams extra practices and extra games.
Michigan went to Belgium last summer, Florida went before one of its national championship runs and the Vols used their 2007 trip to central Europe as a springboard into a season that saw them win a school-record 31 games, reach the No. 1 ranking and finish the regular season No. 1 in the RPI. UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said the Vols are contracted to play overseas this summer, but Martin said he’s not sure it would be worth the effort.
“If we can do it, we could be great, with Scotty and Tobias back, because now you’ve got nine guys back,’’ Martin said. “I don’t know how much it would help you with seven guys.’’
Martin wasn’t counting UT signees Kevin Ware and Chris Jones, perhaps unaware that the NCAA changed a rule in 2010 and now allows freshmen to go on such trips.
Martin already is committed to his own overseas excursion this summer, as he and Butler coach Brad Stevens will serve as assistant coaches to Purdue coach Matt Painter for the USA Men’s World University Games in Shenzhen, China, from Aug. 12-23.
Martin said Harris and Hopson would be eligible to try out for the team from July 30-Aug. 8 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
UT will begin individual workouts next week. Martin said some practices will be open to the media, but he did not specify how many or if fans will be welcome.