Vols anxious to prove they belong

Woolridge: 'We believe in ourselves'

UT senior Renaldo Woolridge discusses the scenery and preparations in Hawaii

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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Tennessee will have its opportunity to prove it still belongs at college basketball’s head table this week.

Seated across from the Vols in their opening game at the prestigious EA Sports Maui Invitational is Duke royalty, atop its throne, the winningest coach in men’s Division I basketball history, Mike Krzyzewski.

“It’s Duke, it’s Coach K, it’s Hawaii,” UT point guard Trae Golden said. “We’re playing to win and represent the University of Tennessee.”

The Vols (2-0) tip off against the No. 6 Blue Devils (4-0) at 5:30 p.m. Monday (TV: ESPN2).

“We believe in ourselves,” UT senior Renaldo Woolridge said. “That’s all that matters.”

Good thing, because few others give the Vols much of a chance to beat teams like Duke or reach the NCAA tournament for a seventh consecutive time.

UT was picked to finish 11th in the SEC, and ESPN dropped the Vols from its high-profile “Super Tuesday” programming this season. Attendance was down at the first two home games, and only Michigan sold fewer of its allotted tickets in the eight-team Maui Invitational.

At that, the Vols’ invitation came more than a year ago, when it appeared former coach Bruce Pearl would still be ringleader and there was a chance SEC standouts Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson would return for another season.

But new coach Cuonzo Martin takes it all in stride.

“I don’t think about any of that stuff, don’t have the time to,” Martin said. “I was given an opportunity here, we’re going to work hard to do things as best as we can.

“It’s great for our guys to be playing on this stage. We’re privileged to be here (Hawaii), but we know why we’re here.”

Martin hasn’t mentioned the loss of Harris or Hopson, nor has he droned on about the Vols being one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. Hard lumps are to be expected, yet Martin almost seems to embrace the notion.

“You have to go through the fire to find out where you are as a team,” said Martin, whose team has beaten UNC Greensboro and Louisiana Monroe this season. “You have to hit that tough spot, that rough patch, where you’ve lost a couple of games. Then you see how do guys respond, who’s pointing fingers, who’s not defending.

“You see who’s still leading the team saying, ‘let’s stick together.’ ”

Still, Martin believes the Vols can beat Duke and either Michigan or Memphis on Tuesday.

The players have that same air, taking gloomy prognostications as a challenge.

“We talk about it every day, that people don’t think we’re going to do anything,” junior forward Jeronne Maymon said. “We’ll see what we’re made of here. It’s a test to see where our heart is, where our head is. We’re hard workers, we’re dedicated, we’re buying into Coach Martin, and we believe.”

Golden watched Krzyzewski get his record-breaking 903rd win against Michigan State on Tuesday night.

“I heard Coach K say something like, his players might not always love him, but they play hard for him,” Golden said. “Well, we love Coach Martin, and we all play hard for him, too.

“It’s the way he relates to us. We know we can talk to him about anything, and he cares about us.”

As for playing Duke ...

“Duke is just another game,” Golden said. “Why would we be in awe of them? What’s really the difference between Duke and Kentucky? We play Kentucky every year.”

Golden’s businesslike disposition is a sign Martin’s message has been accepted.

“You have to approach (Duke) as business as usual,” Martin said. “We tell our guys, whether it’s an exhibition game or the No. 1 team, the only thing that changes is the name on the front of that jersey.

“I keep things to a minimum; we do certain things, we win the game,” Martin said. “You can’t think the officials will call it this way, or they are 12-0 in Maui (which Duke is), or their coach has won this many games. You’re just giving excuses why you can’t win.

“Your guys say, ‘he’s the all-time winner.’ That doesn’t matter; what matters is making more shots than they do.”

Martin’s bulldog approach made him a favorite of his former coach at Purdue, Gene Keady, who never fails to heap praise on Martin every time Knoxville’s 865 area code shows up on his caller ID.

“Cuonzo was the best leader I had in my 50 years of coaching, and he’ll figure out a way to get it right,” said Keady, who won six Big Ten titles at Purdue from 1980 to 2005. “Every day is a new day for him working with a new team. Zo knows if he teaches the right fundamentals and right intensity, you can beat anyone on a given night.”

Keady laughed when he heard the Vols were opening the Maui Invitational against Duke.

“Tell Cuonzo to keep Mike (Krzyzewski) away from the referees,” Keady said, asked if he had any advice. “Mike is a friend of mine, so I can say that, but Cuonzo is like my son, so he’s a lot closer to me.

“Listen, Tennessee’s got a good name, good facilities and plenty of resources. Zo will be fine, believe me.”

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

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Comments » 10

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Wow. Duke. Wow Mike K! Wow Hawaii.

GO VOLS! BEAT DUKE!
Our teams better than yours.
Go BIG ORANGE...
I always post positive stuff.hehe

born2ride writes:

Coach K vs Martin.

This is a mismatch. Duke wins big.

Vols go 1-3 in Maui.

Beat Chaminade.

VictorKruger writes:

in response to born2ride:

Coach K vs Martin.

This is a mismatch. Duke wins big.

Vols go 1-3 in Maui.

Beat Chaminade.

Hey troll, since the football game is going on, I bet you're probably feeling lonely with no one responding to your comment. So, I'll throw you a bone: the Vols are only playing 3 games in Hawaii. I apologize if you can't count that high and don't understand my comment.

budd#207344 writes:

play hard play smart and you will be ok. I think this team will surprise some people this year.

Tennfan4075 writes:

While I am still not sold on Coach Martin I do think the Vols have a good chance with this Duke team, Belmont College in Nashville lost at the buzzer by one point just a couple weeks ago and surely the Vols are as good as Belmont, but with that being said at the beginning of the season, I thought the football team would have maybe not won anymore games than they have or will, but I sure thought they would have been more competitive with the better SEC teams and not have to beat Vandy in overtime.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

While I am still not sold on Coach Martin I do think the Vols have a good chance with this Duke team, Belmont College in Nashville lost at the buzzer by one point just a couple weeks ago and surely the Vols are as good as Belmont, but with that being said at the beginning of the season, I thought the football team would have maybe not won anymore games than they have or will, but I sure thought they would have been more competitive with the better SEC teams and not have to beat Vandy in overtime.

It's a little early to stake out a solid position on the "sold/not-sold" proposition on Martin, though I for one like what I have seen so far. Duke hasn't totally dominated anybody so far this season; I think their biggest margin was 12 against Davidson on SATURDAY at home. The reason I mentioned that is that the Vols should be a little better adjusted to the time change and the long trip than Duke. Of course, Duke may pick Monday to put together all the pieces of what should be an outstanding team and lay a real whipping on the Vols. On the other hand, the Vols just might catch them a little flat and shock the world. Even though I don't EXPECT the Vols to win more than maybe one game at the tournament, they could win more. The main thing is as Martin says; if they DO have to deal with adversity of a big loss, they have to show that they will still pull together to compete.

As for the game itself, McRae looked a little more in control in the last game. He could be a real wild card in this game; Duke has a lot of really big guys and several good guard types, but no "tweeners" like McRae and Tatum. This would be a GREAT time for the (hopefully) REAL Kenny Hall to step up--hoping of course that we haven't already been seeing the "real" Kenny Hall! If Golden stays as strong and confident with the ball as he has been and the Vols don't get tight shooting it, the game may be closer than many think right now.

johnlg00 writes:

OOPS!!! Duke's game against Davidson was on FRIDAY! Even so, they won't arrive in Hawaii until sometime Saturday, so they will have only about 48 hours of recovery time before they play on Monday. They also played in New York on Tuesday--I think!--so that is a fair amount of traveling in less than a week. I know, I know, that is a pretty thin reed on which to hang the Vols' chances of pulling the upset, but that is why they play the games.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

"tweeners like McRae and Tatum"

I hope they both have a good game . Tatum needs the confidence and I hope McRae is learning shot selection. With good defenses we could see a lot of transition baskets for either side. I hope ours has more and we draw more fouls as well. It's ok to hope anyhow.

MMHonee writes:

in response to johnlg00:

It's a little early to stake out a solid position on the "sold/not-sold" proposition on Martin, though I for one like what I have seen so far. Duke hasn't totally dominated anybody so far this season; I think their biggest margin was 12 against Davidson on SATURDAY at home. The reason I mentioned that is that the Vols should be a little better adjusted to the time change and the long trip than Duke. Of course, Duke may pick Monday to put together all the pieces of what should be an outstanding team and lay a real whipping on the Vols. On the other hand, the Vols just might catch them a little flat and shock the world. Even though I don't EXPECT the Vols to win more than maybe one game at the tournament, they could win more. The main thing is as Martin says; if they DO have to deal with adversity of a big loss, they have to show that they will still pull together to compete.

As for the game itself, McRae looked a little more in control in the last game. He could be a real wild card in this game; Duke has a lot of really big guys and several good guard types, but no "tweeners" like McRae and Tatum. This would be a GREAT time for the (hopefully) REAL Kenny Hall to step up--hoping of course that we haven't already been seeing the "real" Kenny Hall! If Golden stays as strong and confident with the ball as he has been and the Vols don't get tight shooting it, the game may be closer than many think right now.

Duke has blown out a team. Duke beat Belmont by 1. The next day they beat Presbyterian by 41. Presbyterian just upset #20 Cincinnati, yesterday.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to MMHonee:

Duke has blown out a team. Duke beat Belmont by 1. The next day they beat Presbyterian by 41. Presbyterian just upset #20 Cincinnati, yesterday.

Forgot about Presbyterian. Amazed at them taking out Cincinnati. Lots of up-and-down performances in the early season. Just hope the Vols have an "up" against Duke today.

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