Mike Strange: Cuonzo Martin faces challenge of turning players into 'his' team

Mike Strange
Tennessee men's basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin answers questions from journalists during media day at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer, Adam Brimer

Tennessee men's basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin answers questions from journalists during media day at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.

Cuonzo Martin on the state of the Vols basketball program

Whenever a new coach takes over, the cycle starts anew. Out in fan world the future is framed in terms of when he gets "his'' guys on board.

Reality, though, is different in the locker room. If the new coach wants to maximize his first team he has to make the guys he inherited "his" guys too.

That's Cuonzo Martin's challenge with Tennessee basketball and it's nothing new under the sun.

Martin's first UT squad met the media Wednesday. Counting walk-ons, the roster is evenly divided: eight new faces and eight faces that Bruce Pearl coached last year.

There are many ways to be successful in college basketball. It's fair to say Pearl and Martin are not exactly clones.

"You have to buy what we're selling,'' Martin said. "You have to be totally committed to be successful.

"So far, this team has done a good job of making the necessary adjustments for us to be successful.''

Nobody did a better job of selling somebody else's guys on a new commitment than Pearl did six years ago.

Pearl inherited Buzz Peterson's roster and, with scarcely a new face, jumped the program from 14-17 to 22-8 and, at 12-4, an SEC East title. And he did it demanding an aggressive commitment to conditioning to play a frantic tempo.

Martin's scenario is different. He has five new scholarship players he recruited. And besides Cam Tatum, the players he inherits were not starters.

In fact, 69 percent of the minutes and 74 percent of the scoring from last year are gone.

Martin is all about toughness, discipline and defense. He told the veterans when he arrived that they were welcome to leave if they felt this system wasn't for them.

Other than Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, who were already committed to turning pro, no one did.

There have been wake-up calls. Some workouts have been so fundamental-intensive a bas

ketball was not required.

"It's not a hard sell,'' said junior Kenny Hall,

"We know what lost us games last year, not playing enough defense all the time on a consistent basis.''

The holdovers say Martin's frankness and consistency were conducive to buying in to the fact that they wouldn't be second-class citizens, deferring to the new recruits.

Junior Skylar McBee, who said he never considered leaving UT, appreciated the honesty:

"He told us how things were going to be and he's kept true to that the entire time.''

One thing he told them is there are no preconceived notions on anybody, as to why they played or did not play last year.

That was music to the ears of guys like senior Renaldo Woolridge, who had seen his role diminish over time from Kansas-killer to scout team.

"Clean slate,'' said Woolridge."Everybody has been treated equal.

"And it doesn't even seem like he's going out of his way to prove that. He's just being real and treating everybody the same.''

So far, so good.

But the bumps and bruises are sure to increase, literally and figuratively. Martin is anxious to see how the energy and commitment stand the test of time.

That goes for the players, too. If the 2011-12 Vols are to reach their potential the locker room can't become divided between Cuonzo's guys and Bruce's guys.

They're all Cuonzo's guys now.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 10

RoadTrip writes:

As it should be. Less showtime and more focus.

kjneel#238751 writes:

Bring on Duke!

volsreign writes:

Gonna be a long year. But I'll be there.

born2ride writes:

We will see a big drop off this year. If it was not for Pearl's leftover players I don't think we would win a game.

VOLKING writes:

I don't want to sound like Johnny Raincloud or anything, but......the University of Tennessee athletics is cursed. We should do what some of the talk radio folks in Nashville are suggesting. We should hold a voodoo ceremony on the field at Neyland Stadium along with an exorcism. Whatever bad mojo we caught ain't going away. It seems to be getting worse. We had a flicker of hope in football this year, then our 3 best players got injured. Basketball will be a nightmare. Baseball...not much better. Pat Summitt got the bad medical news. Geez, we need to exorcise whatever curse has been put on us.

stumpyb writes:

in response to VOLKING:

I don't want to sound like Johnny Raincloud or anything, but......the University of Tennessee athletics is cursed. We should do what some of the talk radio folks in Nashville are suggesting. We should hold a voodoo ceremony on the field at Neyland Stadium along with an exorcism. Whatever bad mojo we caught ain't going away. It seems to be getting worse. We had a flicker of hope in football this year, then our 3 best players got injured. Basketball will be a nightmare. Baseball...not much better. Pat Summitt got the bad medical news. Geez, we need to exorcise whatever curse has been put on us.

The curse we have is called "LIFE" Get used to it

Volunatic writes:

in response to stumpyb:

The curse we have is called "LIFE" Get used to it

Solid assessment, stumpyb. Life throws crazy stuff at you sometimes. How you deal with the crazy stuff determines whether you are successful or not.

MothershipChip writes:

in response to SirSpanky:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That is the funniest response to anything I have read on this site in a long time!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to born2ride:

We will see a big drop off this year. If it was not for Pearl's leftover players I don't think we would win a game.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. I would say that almost ANY team that had to start over with new players every year might have a tough time of it. If not for Peterson's leftover players, Pearl would have had a hard time of it. Tony Passley, anyone? I know that Calapari at UK has created a new template in that regard, but that is not a model just any program could or should try to copy.

carbonzip writes:

in response to VOLKING:

I don't want to sound like Johnny Raincloud or anything, but......the University of Tennessee athletics is cursed. We should do what some of the talk radio folks in Nashville are suggesting. We should hold a voodoo ceremony on the field at Neyland Stadium along with an exorcism. Whatever bad mojo we caught ain't going away. It seems to be getting worse. We had a flicker of hope in football this year, then our 3 best players got injured. Basketball will be a nightmare. Baseball...not much better. Pat Summitt got the bad medical news. Geez, we need to exorcise whatever curse has been put on us.

That witchdoctor guy could lead the ceremonies

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