Mike Strange: Not a good start to beginning of big-boy basketball schedule

Mike Strange
Memphis guard Joe Jackson (1) goes to the basket against Tennessee guards Wes Washpun, top, and Josh Richardson (1) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis won 69-51.

Photo by Lance Murphey, Associated Press

Memphis guard Joe Jackson (1) goes to the basket against Tennessee guards Wes Washpun, top, and Josh Richardson (1) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis won 69-51.

Cuonzo Martin on UT's loss at Memphis

MEMPHIS — The SEC season doesn't begin until Saturday. Nevertheless, Wednesday was a demarcation line for Tennessee basketball, the turning of a page.

The Southern Conference and Ohio Valley portion of the 2011-12 Vols season is history. The Big Boy Basketball portion began Wednesday and it wasn't pretty.

The Vols had lately righted their ship after stumbling through the first half of December. They arrived in Memphis with a four-game winning streak.

After watching the Memphis Tigers pull away to a 69-51 win, you have to wonder when Tennessee's next winning streak will be.

Florida on Saturday, then a trip to Mississippi State. Then Kentucky, at Georgia, Connecticut, at Vanderbilt and, well, circle Auburn's visit to Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 28 as the next time Tennessee might be favored in a game.

"It's a long season,'' said guard Trae Golden, one of the few bright spots for the Vols in the Tiger den. "We're gonna have our ups and downs. We're still a young team.''

And they looked it, facing a howling blue crowd of 18,334 at the FedExForum.

Sixteen turnovers, 10 of them Memphis steals. Yemi Makanjuola committed three turnovers. Wes Washpun, another freshman, got into a heated situation with a Tiger or two that resulted in a double-technical foul.

What would a UT-Memphis game be without a double technical?

On a night when baskets were hard to come by, Golden scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. But he also had five turnovers.

"Our focus wasn't where it needed to be,'' said Golden. "This was a good game for us, coming on the road to a hostile environment, knowing that next time when we go to a Florida or Kentucky, we can't do the same things.''

It was a hostile environment all right. Much more so than laid-back Maui where the Vols battled the Tigers through two overtimes in November before blinking, 99-97.

No one was wearing aloha shirts Wednesday. This was the real world. Memphis had its crowd and that meant energy.

"You have to win 50-50 balls and hustle plays,'' said Memphis coach Josh Pastner, "and we did that.

"That's why we won the game.''

The hostility extended even to certain noncombatants. Like Jarnell Stokes.

Tennessee's newest signee, in one final appearance in his hometown before reporting to Knoxville, sat behind the UT bench in street clothes and got an earful.

"Hey, Jarnell, you're a hillbilly,'' cried one voice.

And as the game got out of hand, another voice offered this:

"Get used to it, Jarnell. We're gonna cram it down your throat the whole time you're there.''

That remains to be seen. But the Vols need Stokes and more like him to avoid getting blown out, whether it's in Memphis, Lexington or Tuscaloosa.

The Tiger roster boasted eight Memphians, four of them starters. One, junior center Tarik Black, blasted five dunks in Tennessee's face en route to 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Luring the brawny and gifted Stokes to Knoxville was a bold stroke for UT's first-year coach, Cuonzo Martin. Will there be others willing to make the 400-mile journey east, I wondered.

"I think so,'' said Martin. "That's your job to go recruit the best players available. We'll definitely do that.''

For now, the Vols have to make do. Trailing 69-49, they needed Josh Richardson's uncontested layup in the final minute to avoid Memphis being able to boast its biggest victory margin in the intrastate rivalry. The Tigers had won by 19 twice before.

On Saturday, Florida, not the Citadel, shows up at Thompson-Boling. Next week, the Vols venture to Starkville and that's a considerable step up from Charleston.

""This game,'' said Golden, "it didn't do nothing but motivate us.

"There's no time to get discouraged now, 14 or 15 games into the season. Getting discouraged is out of the question.''

Hold on to that thought.

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 » 31

tulelakevol writes:

Hope we win a few quality SEC games, not looking good though, still don't think Gonzo can get it done here, but time will tell.

born2ride writes:

We were picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC. Now we see why. This may be the worst team ever.

Martin is not getting the job done. His recruits (except Stokes) are not SEC calibar players. He can't coach. Martin will never replace Pearl.

I am sure our die hard Vol fans will make excuses for Martin like they do Dooley.

Bottom line: Martin and Dooley need to go.

hikerdude writes:

"Luring....Stokes...a bold stroke for...Martin." My guess is that circumstances, such as lack of scholarships at other schools, had more to do with Stokes choosing UT than Martin's recruiting prowess. Martin may prove to be a good recruiter but I don't think Stokes' choosing UT is evidence of that.

dcap8424 writes:

in response to born2ride:

We were picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC. Now we see why. This may be the worst team ever.

Martin is not getting the job done. His recruits (except Stokes) are not SEC calibar players. He can't coach. Martin will never replace Pearl.

I am sure our die hard Vol fans will make excuses for Martin like they do Dooley.

Bottom line: Martin and Dooley need to go.

You may be right about Dooley and Martin, but at least for Martin 14 games into his first season is a little early to be passing any kind of judgement.

The fact is Martin did replace Pearl. Whether or not he is succesful as Pearl, is yet to be seen.

voloffaith writes:

What a happy bunch of posters. Rough night no doubt and the suspects get harder ongoing. See if up to the call in these next 4 to 5 games of being competitive in SEC.

tulelakevol writes:

in response to voloffaith:

What a happy bunch of posters. Rough night no doubt and the suspects get harder ongoing. See if up to the call in these next 4 to 5 games of being competitive in SEC.

Sorry, but I have not seen a lot from the basketball team to be happy about.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to voloffaith:

What a happy bunch of posters. Rough night no doubt and the suspects get harder ongoing. See if up to the call in these next 4 to 5 games of being competitive in SEC.

High odds on 0-5 to start the SEC. Luckily Auburn is at home otherwise they may not be favored then either. They may start playing as a team but haven't seen many signs of it.

alfrizzle097 writes:

Born, Martin's recruits not named Stokes were obtained on short notice under the cloud of an NCAA investigation of major violations. That is what happens in that situation.

Next year is when you see if Martin can coach. You judge improvement, not results when the coach inherited a team of players that were pretty much riding the bench under the old coach.

The scheme is starting to click for these guys. Let's see how much they improve in an off season.

BigBadVol writes:

in response to born2ride:

We were picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC. Now we see why. This may be the worst team ever.

Martin is not getting the job done. His recruits (except Stokes) are not SEC calibar players. He can't coach. Martin will never replace Pearl.

I am sure our die hard Vol fans will make excuses for Martin like they do Dooley.

Bottom line: Martin and Dooley need to go.

Are you really that stupid? Do you think we really care about your idiotic opinions. Just another troll pretending to be a Vol fan that spends more time on this board than anyone. You must be on welfare with way too much time on your hands.

doh writes:

in response to alfrizzle097:

Born, Martin's recruits not named Stokes were obtained on short notice under the cloud of an NCAA investigation of major violations. That is what happens in that situation.

Next year is when you see if Martin can coach. You judge improvement, not results when the coach inherited a team of players that were pretty much riding the bench under the old coach.

The scheme is starting to click for these guys. Let's see how much they improve in an off season.

I agree. Martin has to be given a chance.

GhostofRobertNeyland writes:

in response to alfrizzle097:

Born, Martin's recruits not named Stokes were obtained on short notice under the cloud of an NCAA investigation of major violations. That is what happens in that situation.

Next year is when you see if Martin can coach. You judge improvement, not results when the coach inherited a team of players that were pretty much riding the bench under the old coach.

The scheme is starting to click for these guys. Let's see how much they improve in an off season.

Exactly!

arkyvol writes:

give it up guys. for all his down side, bruce was the best pure coach we'll ever see. best we can hope for is a higher level of mediocrity like ray mears. otherwise, vol ball is just another way to burn time between bowl season and spring practice.

crappieking writes:

in response to arkyvol:

give it up guys. for all his down side, bruce was the best pure coach we'll ever see. best we can hope for is a higher level of mediocrity like ray mears. otherwise, vol ball is just another way to burn time between bowl season and spring practice.

Not as long as Dooley is the football coach. Sorry.

Big_Orange_Aide writes:

Yeah, we may pull off a few SEC wins. The level of play has become alot tougher. However, we have to remain positive. No one knew what was going to happen once Pearl left. Because we were under NCAA investagation we went with someone who showed promise in CCM. I hope this team improves quickly. The best thing is we got Stokes, and I believe he will make a tremendous impact. Hopefully that impact we be felt with four and five star recruits coming into our program again. GOTTA SUPPORT THE TEAM

born2ride writes:

in response to BigBadVol:

Are you really that stupid? Do you think we really care about your idiotic opinions. Just another troll pretending to be a Vol fan that spends more time on this board than anyone. You must be on welfare with way too much time on your hands.

You must be a homer with your head buried in the sand. If you are so smart and pleased with a football coach who goes 1-7 in the SEC and loses to Kentucky and a basketball coach who loses to Austin Peay and Memphis I feel sorry for you.

I am sure I have been a fan longer than you. I just don't accept lousy coaches at UT like you must.

Go Big Orange!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

It's good to see the real fans supporting the team and their coach on here. Don't let the "trolls" take away your loyalty to the program. Coach Martin (as I've said before) may or may not be the right man. But he is our coach at least for now and next season or 2. I think he'll be a winner like he has been in his personal struggle with cancer. Who cares if he isn't a clown like Pearl was(I liked that too) and appeals to the kid in us? That has little to do with coaching and it's really the AD's job to fill the stands. Well winning more will help too in the future. It'll happen. Stokes is the real deal. For now we need to support and get the other players involvde with winning efforts!!
GO Big Orange

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to born2ride:

You must be a homer with your head buried in the sand. If you are so smart and pleased with a football coach who goes 1-7 in the SEC and loses to Kentucky and a basketball coach who loses to Austin Peay and Memphis I feel sorry for you.

I am sure I have been a fan longer than you. I just don't accept lousy coaches at UT like you must.

Go Big Orange!

Hypocrite! You just care about badmouthing! You don't care about our teams! You say it every time you post. But you have every right to be negative if you choose. To look just at the won lost record after only a little time having these coaches is not only negative but also can be harmful to the perception out there of UT and it's sports programs in general. It's not being a fan tp consistently and hatefully (it seems) try to destroy something. You are a stalker of UTsports. A "homer " as you say must be someone who doesn't just look at the now...but considers the future as well. Also that it will take hard work to rid ourselves of the past harm done by our beloved Pearl(but hey I loved his coaching too). He did hurt the perception of our programs regardless of his intentions and past positives brought to UT.
Somehow in spite of this Martin chose to come here. He would have been offered similar jobs eventually. But here he is. You need to get a grip with reality (if you are a real fan) and accept!

OrangeShmee writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

Billy Donovan went 13-17 in his first year (5-11 in the SEC).

Mike Krzyzewski had overall losing records in 2 out of his first 3 years at Duke, including pathetic 4-10 and 3-11 records in the ACC, and losing seasons in the ACC all three years.

Dean Smith had a losing season his first year.

This whole idea that a head coach needs to take a team to the big dance in his very first year, or even that he needs to win all of his games starting out, is patently ridiculous.

Cuonzo Martin has shown that he can take a program and improve it every year. Everyone who knows him vouches not only for his character but for his coaching skills. This is his first year, and he is developing the team for the long haul. All the real fans should stop worrying about what the fans of other teams, or trolls, say after each game...their words are inconsequential. Lets give Coach Martin our support. He deserves it.

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

And all this needless talk about Coach Pearl. Just get over it. He was a GREAT coach, but things happened that shouldnt have, he got called out on it, he is gone now, and thats it. Do you think it will help Penn State fans to keep worrying about the fact that they dont have Joe Paterno anymore? The only way they will help themselves is to find their next coach and move on.

This is Coach Martin's team now. Live with it.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to TheRealDragonSlayer:

Billy Donovan went 13-17 in his first year (5-11 in the SEC).

Mike Krzyzewski had overall losing records in 2 out of his first 3 years at Duke, including pathetic 4-10 and 3-11 records in the ACC, and losing seasons in the ACC all three years.

Dean Smith had a losing season his first year.

This whole idea that a head coach needs to take a team to the big dance in his very first year, or even that he needs to win all of his games starting out, is patently ridiculous.

Cuonzo Martin has shown that he can take a program and improve it every year. Everyone who knows him vouches not only for his character but for his coaching skills. This is his first year, and he is developing the team for the long haul. All the real fans should stop worrying about what the fans of other teams, or trolls, say after each game...their words are inconsequential. Lets give Coach Martin our support. He deserves it.

Did Billy D., Coach K. or the Dean start off with five 4-star players? None of which were freshman? Serious question.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to alfrizzle097:

Born, Martin's recruits not named Stokes were obtained on short notice under the cloud of an NCAA investigation of major violations. That is what happens in that situation.

Next year is when you see if Martin can coach. You judge improvement, not results when the coach inherited a team of players that were pretty much riding the bench under the old coach.

The scheme is starting to click for these guys. Let's see how much they improve in an off season.

1. He did not need to sign five guys during the offseason. Three at the most, a big man, a point guard, and a body. Had he signed Yemi, a point guard and either Richardson/Washpun, we would have had two additional scholarships for the 2012 class.

2. Given that, the two he has signed for the 2012 class, other than Stokes, are of the same quality of the first class and do not belong on an SEC roster.

3. Martin getting Stokes was fortunate circumstances, and really nothing more. Odds are if he plays his Sr. season of high school ball he ends up at Kentucky or Memphis. He's a great player, but he cannot carry the team by himself. What has Martin surrounded Stokes with isn't going to do him any favors. It's basically a repeat of the situation Allen Houston was in, one very talented player surrounded by scrubs, one of whom has a mustache.

lomas98 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Did Billy D., Coach K. or the Dean start off with five 4-star players? None of which were freshman? Serious question.

Not sure, can you answer it? Not sure they even had star ratings back when coack K or Dean were coaching the first year. Who are TN's 4 star players by the way? Not 4 star recruits, but 4 star players. Isn't that what really matters? I assume you are talking about Hall and Woolridge on 2 of those. Don't blame Martin for them not developing or living up to hype.

BettyJoComplete writes:

Do you guys watch any non-Vol basketball? Auburn OMG, you guys are so much better than Auburn. Did you see what FSU did to Aufulrn? That isn't going to happen to you guys. With Stokes you guys are going to be in the top half of the SEC, and you can't expect to compete in a new coach's first year unless you go the K.Y.jelly route and hire a coach who will steal his recruiting class (Roy Williams did it right when moving from KU to NC.) Sorry you don't like your new coach, but I think he was a quality hire who will get you competing above your historic norm(snerk.)

johnlg00 writes:

I agree that UT was not completely void of talent when Martin came in, if one only looks at recruiting-service ratings. On the face of it, all but the very top 10 or so programs would be delighted to have so many highly-ranked players. Five-star guys by and large are considered the top 15 or 20 guys in the country. Four-stars may number 150 or so. So we're talking about maybe 170 guys a year being sought by well over 300 Division-I teams. So for any one team to have five or more such players is WAY disproportionate to the number of teams chasing them.

HOWEVER, history has shown that there just is no direct relation between how many highly-rated players a team has and how successful that team is in terms of wins and championship. The standards that go into the ratings are highly subjective on a number of levels. Guys who dominate in HS may have simply matured physically ahead of their contemporaries and are already at their physical peak. Some of the guys they were pushing around, jumping over, and running past in HS may eventually be stronger, springier, and faster than the HS stars by the time they are all a few years older. Guys who dominate early may not have the same burning desire to KEEP getting better that the ones they used to beat up on have. A guy who is accustomed all his life to being "The Man" may not know or care how to be a good teammate. A guy who has dominated on the basis of what he ALREADY knows or does well may not readily accept that a college coach may rightly think he still has more to learn, especially if he has doting parents or a fawning "crew" constantly telling him otherwise. So how good a guy SEEMS to be in HS is not NECESSARILY a reliable guide to how good he WILL be when he reaches a higher level.

Oh sure, there are plenty of HS stars who go on to be even greater stars at higher levels. There have been NCAA champion teams led by super-star undergrads. I would not doubt that if a school got two or more five-stars a year, year after year, they will be among the top five or ten programs in the country year after year. HOWEVER, those top teams don't win the championship EVERY year. Every year, one or more of them goes down to a team with no one player who could even start for the big-time program.

The fact is that TALENT in any sport in is far more wide-spread than HIGHLY-RATED PLAYERS are. In other words, "talented player" and "highly-rated player" are NOT exactly equivalent terms. We have already seen that most of UT current four-stars have SERIOUS flaws as college players. Pearl didn't or couldn't fix them despite the fact that the team needed better players even last year than these guys seemed to be at the same positions many of them are playing now. Martin now has to try to fix those flaws on the fly, as it were. He doesn't have the luxury of letting these guys sit the bench until they learn to play better, harder, or more consistently.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

1. He did not need to sign five guys during the offseason. Three at the most, a big man, a point guard, and a body. Had he signed Yemi, a point guard and either Richardson/Washpun, we would have had two additional scholarships for the 2012 class.

2. Given that, the two he has signed for the 2012 class, other than Stokes, are of the same quality of the first class and do not belong on an SEC roster.

3. Martin getting Stokes was fortunate circumstances, and really nothing more. Odds are if he plays his Sr. season of high school ball he ends up at Kentucky or Memphis. He's a great player, but he cannot carry the team by himself. What has Martin surrounded Stokes with isn't going to do him any favors. It's basically a repeat of the situation Allen Houston was in, one very talented player surrounded by scrubs, one of whom has a mustache.

1) If If he had only signed the three players you named, then he wouldn't have signed Chievous and Miller. If he hadn't signed Miller, we would only have four post players total, leaving us too thin there. Miller is a JC product, and only has this year and next, so he didn't squander a full four year ship no matter how you look at it. So the only player he recruited that he didn't need immediately is Chievous, who will be a redshirt freshman next year. And so by what qualifications can you tell me that Chievous is not a quality player?

2) Again, what qualifies you to judge the two recruits this year as not belonging on an SEC roster? Wouldn't you have said the same things about Butler's recruiting classes?

3) Stokes could have always gone to any school he wanted, whether he played his senior year or not. He didn't come to UT ONLY because Martin had a mid-year scholly available. He came to UT at least in part because Martin recruited him. That you won't give Martin his due when he obviously does well - only denigrating him no matter how well he does - smacks of an agenda, not fair criticism.

OwensboroVol writes:

I will admit that I have never considered Martin to be gifted enough as a Coach to lead the Vols to the same level that Bruce Pearl did. Things just seem to get worse the more the team plays. The Memphis team and its fans just make me sick and I yearn to return to the day that Bruce Pearl whipped their butts when they were No. 1. Hopefully Martin will grow very fast into the job, or Hart will see that the growth is not going to happen and will change the leadership sooner rather than later.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Think Tom Crean of Indiana if any of you self-proclaimed geniuses want to compare basketball programs. Crean and Indiana suffered through three terrible years following a show-cause coach. But look at the Hoosiers now, with victories over the Kittys and Buckies. Pearl certainly built the program, and most Vol fans are thankful (including myself). But leave Martin alone, at least for now. He inherited a team that is too small (or too short) underneath, too inexperienced in key positions, and too inconsistent on shooting threes. Last night showed all of these weaknesses. They couldn't make enough outside shots against the striped kitties, therefore they couldn't win. Tennessee has an entire team of complementary players (mostly Pearl's bench, with a few others), and they have little margin for error against a good team. Simple as that. Martin knows this, and he is trying to make these guys work together to win some ball games. So far it's not a work of art, as everybody can see, mole-trolls included. But I believe it will be, given some time. I believe that Martin can actually build on what Pearl had started. Probably not in the next several games, though, and probably not this year. Maybe not even the next. Even so, bring your support. Come strong, or don't come at all. Bring it against the Crocks on Saturday.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to decades_vol:

Think Tom Crean of Indiana if any of you self-proclaimed geniuses want to compare basketball programs. Crean and Indiana suffered through three terrible years following a show-cause coach. But look at the Hoosiers now, with victories over the Kittys and Buckies. Pearl certainly built the program, and most Vol fans are thankful (including myself). But leave Martin alone, at least for now. He inherited a team that is too small (or too short) underneath, too inexperienced in key positions, and too inconsistent on shooting threes. Last night showed all of these weaknesses. They couldn't make enough outside shots against the striped kitties, therefore they couldn't win. Tennessee has an entire team of complementary players (mostly Pearl's bench, with a few others), and they have little margin for error against a good team. Simple as that. Martin knows this, and he is trying to make these guys work together to win some ball games. So far it's not a work of art, as everybody can see, mole-trolls included. But I believe it will be, given some time. I believe that Martin can actually build on what Pearl had started. Probably not in the next several games, though, and probably not this year. Maybe not even the next. Even so, bring your support. Come strong, or don't come at all. Bring it against the Crocks on Saturday.

You are right on the money, dv.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

1) If If he had only signed the three players you named, then he wouldn't have signed Chievous and Miller. If he hadn't signed Miller, we would only have four post players total, leaving us too thin there. Miller is a JC product, and only has this year and next, so he didn't squander a full four year ship no matter how you look at it. So the only player he recruited that he didn't need immediately is Chievous, who will be a redshirt freshman next year. And so by what qualifications can you tell me that Chievous is not a quality player?

2) Again, what qualifies you to judge the two recruits this year as not belonging on an SEC roster? Wouldn't you have said the same things about Butler's recruiting classes?

3) Stokes could have always gone to any school he wanted, whether he played his senior year or not. He didn't come to UT ONLY because Martin had a mid-year scholly available. He came to UT at least in part because Martin recruited him. That you won't give Martin his due when he obviously does well - only denigrating him no matter how well he does - smacks of an agenda, not fair criticism.

One thing WKR, and others who buy his rap, miss about CCM locking up too many allegedly subpar players with "four-year scholarships" is that there is NO SUCH THING as a 4-year scholarship! ALL scholarships are year-to-year deals. Ask the UK holdovers when Calapari came in with his first all-star class. Anybody on here remember Marques Johnson? He was a member of Pearl's second recruiting class, a highly-regarded 4-star at the time. Pearl quickly determined that he was not good enough to play at UT and he was run off to some lower-level school. What happened to Philip Jurick, for that matter? And the other big guy that Pearl ran off to Lipscomb, IIRC? The point is that ALL of these recent Martin signees are being given a chance to see if they can cut it at this level, since they were the only ones he could get on short notice. If they can't, they will go elsewhere and their scholarships will go to guys who CAN play at this level.

johnlg00 writes:

PS: Anybody who thinks Martin doesn't KNOW any better than to recruit guys like most of those he has signed or that he PREFERS guys who aren't highly rated over those who are is out of his mind. The thing is, coming to a place like UT from a place like Missouri State, he INITIALLY has access only to lower-profile guys. From UT, he has access to higher-profile guys. If he can get the players he has to perform better than expected and develops the relative unknowns into productive players, the higher-profile guys will listen more closely to what he has to say.

The only thing guys like WKR and his ilk can say is that a higher-profile coach would have had quicker access to better players--an expression I have avoided using so far because of my previously-stated belief that a player's national profile bears NO necessary relation to how suitable he may be for the future development virtually ALL HS stars must undergo if they are to CONTINUE to succeed at a higher level of competition--which may or may not be true, but is in any case a moot point today.

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