Mike Strange: New NCAA rule should help Vols, but UT changes won't

Mike Strange

Last week, Tennessee completed its spring basketball workout sessions. The weighted vests Cuonzo Martin introduced to Pratt Pavilion were put away.

In past seasons, that would have been Martin's — or Billy Donovan's or Roy Williams' — final hands-on time with his players in a gym until September.

That's a long summer gap to be filled. It's an anxious time for a coach because it can be filled by activities (or inactivities) counter-productive to the grand mission.

"They go away,'' Martin said Wednesday, "and especially with those elite guys, all of a sudden you have people coming through the door and things can happen.''

The NCAA has enacted legislation to make coaches like Martin less anxious.

Starting this summer, athletes are permitted eight hours of supervised "athletic activities" per week of which no more than two hours can "involve skill instruction.''

Two hours a week doesn't sound like much but it means consistent contact.

"Probably 30 minutes a day, four days a week,'' Martin said. "And once again, you have an opportunity to keep your guys on campus.''

There is fine print. The athlete has to be enrolled in summer school. And if he's a returning player, he has to carry a 2.2 grade average while making normal progress toward a degree.

The new deal comes at a fortuitous time for Tennessee. The Vols have legitimate expectations to make some waves in 2012-13 and every inch of a head start is a good thing.

This is a team that returns everyone of significance save for departed senior Cameron Tatum. The summer opportunity also parlays nicely with the 10 days of practice the Vols are allowed prior to their August trip to Italy.

There's always the risk of burnout, but if managed properly the continuity should pay off.

The benefits of these individual or small-group workouts should not be discounted.

Martin has seen tangible progress in different players since they were abruptly dismissed from the NIT by Middle Tennessee State.

Jarnell Stokes, for example, is a better player today than a month ago.

"He was running (a suicide) sprint in 34 seconds,'' Martin said. "Now it's 30. Yemi (Makanjuola) ran a 29. He hadn't done that all year. And that's wearing the weight vest.''

While the NCAA was in a giving mood, the university is channeling Mr. Grinch.

Buried in last week's announcement that the athletic department is cutting jobs was a mention of operating with fewer student personnel.

That includes basketball walk-ons, it turns out.

Martin will be restricted to 15 roster spots: 13 on scholarship and just two walk-ons.

Last year's team had five walk-ons. Freshman Brandon Lopez took honors with 10 combined minutes of game action.

Lopez will get one of the two slots for 2012-13, Martin said.

Rob Murphy, a 6-foot-8 forward who played five minutes, gets the other.

The cut was "somewhat" of a factor in why point guard Cory Stanton won't be back with the team, Martin said. Martin hopes to keep the other walk-ons involved in the program in non-playing capacities.

Losing a couple of walk-ons doesn't sound like a big imposition.

UT's five walk-ons played a combined 28 minutes last year, virtually all in mop-up time. But they did make practice more competitive for the scholarship guys.

"We'll have to make some adjustments,'' Martin said. "We'll make it work.''

Speaking of adjustments, the Vols are a calendar year into their indoctrination to Martin's brand of work. What seemed foreign this time last April has become standard operating procedure.

"You're out of the gate understanding what you want to do as a program,'' Martin said.

At this point, that's get back to the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus. In Martin's first season, some early wheel-spinning on the learning curve came back to haunt the Vols in the end.

A promising season lies ahead. And now there is an enhanced summer opportunity to make the most of it. Thirty minutes at a time.

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 » 19

johnlg00 writes:

Glad to see there's now a legal way for the coaches to keep tabs on the players over the summer. Should make it easier to ensure the players are working on the individual things they need to improve on. It will still be up to them to put in the time alone to groove their shots and all, but at least the coaches will be able to gauge the rate of improvement on pretty much a real-time basis.

tenuscvol writes:

I have high hopes they will enter every game with a good chance of winning. It should be enjoyable to watch.

GoVols!

vollaw writes:

Why on earth would they cut walk-ons? Surely the cost savings are minimal,while denying some true student-athletes an opportunity to be part of the program. This is Hart's dumbest decision so far. Hope it's not evidence of future decisions.

voloffaith writes:

This explains Stanton's move as not being headcase with an attitude. Feel better now on that one.

volsreign writes:

Obviously, Cuonzo is a very good coach as was proven by last year's exceeded expectations. That was done, however, mostly with Pearl's guys, some of them 4 star recruits. In the long run it doesn't matter how good he coaches, though, if he can't get the talent. So far he has one great get (Stokes) but his other recruits just don't seem very impressive. Next season could be really good. If recruiting doesn't improve, after next year it could get ugly.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

Well, back on subject (this article has nothing to do with recruiting), why cut back the number of walk-ons?

The walk-ons don't cost the university any money, and I can't see where they cause the athletic department to need any more personnel.

Where would we have been without our walk-ons in 2010 when Smith, Williams etc were suspended? Pretty sure that huge win over Kansas wouldn't have happened.

Dumb move by the school.

born2ride writes:

Other than Stokes (who fell into Martin's lap) we don't seem to be getting SEC caliber players.

bunker_hill#300251 writes:

I'm all for walk-ons but they do cost money for hotel rooms and feeding them on road trips. Take away a couple hotel rooms for the season in a sport where they travel quite a bit and you're going to save some money.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to bunker_hill#300251:

I'm all for walk-ons but they do cost money for hotel rooms and feeding them on road trips. Take away a couple hotel rooms for the season in a sport where they travel quite a bit and you're going to save some money.

That would only be true if you take them all with you on the road trips. There's no requirement to do that. They could take the 2 with them and the others don't travel.

MDiv writes:

As a former support staffer for an NCAA Div. II BB program, the extra contact time with the players will mean better students and better athletes. Most of the troubleshoot I saw occured when the coaches were forbidden from working with the players during the long off-season. The NCAA actually got this one right.

FeelVol writes:

Thanks Mike for a very informative article.

easleychuck writes:

Informative article. Cutting basketball walk-ons saves very little money and impacts the program in its ability to prepare during the season.

The hotel argument put forth by a poster on here is bogus. Just like in football, you can limit the number of players who travel on the road. That would stink for the kids but you could make it work.

I suppose the cost of detergent has really sky rocketed since I played ball.

jakethevolguy writes:

in response to easleychuck:

Informative article. Cutting basketball walk-ons saves very little money and impacts the program in its ability to prepare during the season.

The hotel argument put forth by a poster on here is bogus. Just like in football, you can limit the number of players who travel on the road. That would stink for the kids but you could make it work.

I suppose the cost of detergent has really sky rocketed since I played ball.

lol Yeah, Chuck, I hear ya on the detergent. I guess a multi-million dollar program can't afford an extra load or two of laundry.

CoverOrange writes:

Some kids use walk-on opportunities as resume padding. I knew a guy when I was in school that played just for that reason. And practices for DeVoe could be brutal at times. I cannot fathom a reason to limit walk-ons. No more Skylars and Jajuans. Is this the real reason Tyler moved on?

Snapshot writes:

in response to born2ride:

Other than Stokes (who fell into Martin's lap) we don't seem to be getting SEC caliber players.

"We" don't seem to be getting SEC players.

So know you are a Vols fan? I don't think so.

movinonup writes:

in response to born2ride:

Other than Stokes (who fell into Martin's lap) we don't seem to be getting SEC caliber players.

Hold onto that comment until next year. I figure after one more year with CCM and the waves we are going to make next year, there is going to be a huge swing in where the "SEC caliber" players want to play.....funny thing is that we came in 2nd last year in regular season with (your rationale) no SEC caliber players (other than the one that "fell" in his lap (your rationale))????? Must be one heck of a coach.

johnlg00 writes:

It is a fact poorly understood by many casual fans that the number of "impact freshmen" in D-I ball each year is very small. The total number of consensus 4- and 5-star-rated players each year is around 50. Some number of those will not qualify academically for D-I scholarships. Some other number will never play significant minutes because of injuries or academic/conduct reasons after arriving in college. Others will either just not be good fits for the schools that signed them or will not be the players they were thought to be by the rating services. When all that is considered, the number of such players who actually start AND play starring roles as freshmen is WAY smaller than the total number of players so rated each year.

The bottom line is that except for the top-shelf marquee programs like the UKs, the UNCs, the Dukes and such, the overwhelming majority of players who fill the rosters of D-I schools from the top-ranked programs to the also-rans are players who were NOT highly rated by the recruiting services and the big-name schools DO NOT win the national championship every year.

I will concede that the marquee programs are usually the favorites; they DO have numbers of highly-rated players and championship-experienced coaches. There are innumerable other advantages such programs have over those with less of a history of national success. That is a tough club to crack.

Even so, the All-America lists in any given year are filled with players who started out as "who's-he's?" Now I'm not saying it isn't nice to have talented players; I AM saying that it is NICER to have PRODUCTIVE players, no matter how they were ranked coming in. I do believe that Martin will increasingly attract increasingly higher-rated players. However, I think it is, to say the least, highly premature to conclude that the Makanjuolas and Richardsons and such that he has now will not be All-SEC caliber players by the time they are finished or that the teams they will play on will not be competitive at the highest levels.

vollaw writes:

So we are doing this to be like other SEC teams? How many players do UK, UF and other schools keep on their rosters? We have apprently already lost a PG who may have helped the program in the future because of this decision. Again, it makes no sense. Why cut something that helps your program(at least extra practice bodies) with little additional cost.

dvols writes:

this should help Kentucky.....

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