Skylar McBee's new look: Rockin' the 70s 'stache
Martin inherits a program that has become accustomed to success, with an SEC-high six consecutive NCAA tournaments, yet wouldn't seem to have the means to continue those winning ways this season. While the Vols have four players who were ranked in the top 100 coming out of high school, they bring very little experience into a brutal schedule. UT's ledger includes home-and-away meetings with Top 15 SEC East foes Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida as well as non-conference juggernauts Duke, Connecticut and Pittsburgh.
Martin's response to the task has been to get to work, and that will be on display for all to see today as fans have been invited to attend the first preseason practice 5-7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I just want to let the fans get involved and get a look behind the scenes,'' said Martin, who held closed practices at Missouri State. "I know Tennessee fans are interested in seeing the new guys, and I want them to give them a sneak preview of how the team is doing.''
Martin outlined five things the Vols must do to have any chance of extending their NCAA tournament streak:
"We don't have a guy we can throw it down to and score 20 points with his back to the basket, and there's not many of those guys in the country,'' Martin said. "We have more face-up guys, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but we just have to adjust to it with more off-the-dribble scoring and attacking at the rim. But you still have to get to the free-throw line and find production in the paint.''
"Winning the battle for loose balls is going to be a staple, period, regardless of where we're picked to finish,'' Martin said. "It's a brand that we're going to have. We have to win any physical battles. It's diving on the floor and giving your body up for the betterment of the team. There's no out of bounds, you have to go in the stands or the seats to get it done. I'd put taking a charge in this category.''
"The one thing about team togetherness, you have to buy into the team concept completely. Whether that's to score 15 points one night, or get 10 rebounds another night or set great screens to win a given game. You may be more of a facilitator than a scorer one night, depending on how they defend you. You have to do everything necessary for our team to be successful.''
"Jamming the ball, in most cases it will be our point guard, but it can also be our wings,'' Martin said. "Jamming is picking up the ball full-court, almost like a press; it's applying constant pressure and harassing the opponent. The last five minutes of the game, we feel like we have an advantage because of our conditioning. Now, all the sudden, the offense doesn't flow like it used to, because the ballhandler is going to want to give up the ball sooner and not deal with the jam. It's a tough job, and it's physically demanding.''
"It goes beyond the court,'' Martin said. "It's a commitment – not necessarily in a violent way – but a mental approach to be ready to do battle on the court. We talk to our guys about setting their jaw, preparing for a worst-case scenario every time out. Be tough enough for the three-hour practices, or to handle missing three or four shots, or to fight through tough ball screens. Just keep getting up, not sagging your shoulders, blocking out everything, being ready to handle anything. You push through and keep going, realizing nobody wants or cares to hear excuses.''