Coach Martin on the Vols' exhibition games
Cuonzo Martin doesn't find basketball players on recruiting lists nor Internet sites.
Tennessee's men's basketball coach finds them in gyms.
"I trust my eyes more than I trust what someone writes that might not have ever even seen them play,'' Martin said. "I have a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for.''
So the first day of the early signing period on Wednesday wasn't as much about star-gazing for the Vols as it was about signing two prospects Martin believes will fit into his vision for the program.
The Vols' Class of 2012 signees (to date) are Derek Reese, a 6-foot-7½, 205-pound wing from Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., and D'Montre Edwards, a 6-6, 210-pound wing from Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla.
Reese, rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, averaged 13 points and eight rebounds last season playing in Florida's largest high school classification on a team that reached The Sunshine State's Sweet 16.
Edwards, originally from Charleston, S.C., was named the player of the week by Florida's community college association on Tuesday after averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 52 percent (13-of-25) from the floor in a pair of wins.
"I think, with Reese and (Edwards) in this early period, we get some skill on the perimeter, guys that can make shots and make plays off the dribble,'' Martin said. "When you got guys that can do multiple things on the perimeter, it opens things up for your offense. In a ball-screen offense, you have to have guys that can make individual plays.''
Martin said there are only a select few players in the nation that could be successful playing in any program, in any system.
"Don't get me wrong, there are 15 or 20 guys out there that could play with one shoe on and one shoe off,'' he said, "but after that, it's a matter of finding what you need for your program.''
And it's a matter of the recruits liking what they see and hear from Martin, who will begin his first season as the Vols' head coach at 7 p.m. Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena against UNC Greensboro.
Edwards, who has literally grown into a major college prospect by sprouting up two inches over the past couple of years, learned about Martin by watching a short documentary online.
"I watched something on YouTube about Coach, and I saw everything he had been through in his life,'' said Edwards, who chose the Vols over DePaul, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama-Birmingham. "He's a former player, so he knows what we need as players and what we're dealing with, and he cares about you off the court, so he'll make me a better man.''
Edwards is being brought in as a scorer; he can shoot the 3-pointer as well as hit the mid-range jumper and drive to the basket.
Reese attracted Martin with his length and athleticism, in addition to his work ethic and defensive tenacity.
Reese, who's not ranked among the Rivals.com 150 yet, said it fires him up when he sees the names of players listed above him.
"Some of the players that are in the top 10, I've played against, and I've played well against them,'' said Reese, who played his AAU basketball with the Florida Rams. "In some cases, I played better than they did. I'm not going to name any names, but some of them, I played better than they did guarding them.
"But that's fine, I like being the underdog, I'll have a chance to show what I can do.''
Other schools recruiting Reese included Central Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tulane and Virginia Tech.
Reese said he likes Martin's basketball philosophy and discipline.
"When I was talking to Coach, it was my gut feeling that I needed to go there because of the things he believes in,'' Reese said. "It's toughness and defense. You have to play defense, and you always have to be tough. I wasn't really thinking about early playing time. I just felt it was the right school.
"I do want to play early, but I know have to earn that, so that wasn't really a factor in my decision.''
UT is still hunting big men in the signing class. Two of the interior players they are known to be actively recruiting, Jarnell Stokes of Memphis and Landen Lucas from Portland, Ore., have the Vols on their short lists.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32