Martin on teaching his players to ignore negativity
The question came from the audience Wednesday when Cuonzo Martin had the unfortunate timing to make his scheduled appearance at the Big Orange Tipoff Club.
Were there any bright spots from the previous evening's 65-47 beatdown at Vanderbilt?
"When the bus started rolling out of there,'' Martin replied. "That was the bright spot.''
The room roared with laughter. Bruce Pearl couldn't have fired off a better one-liner.
What Vandy did to the Vols was ugly. The senior-laden Commodores exhibited a toughness that comes from experience and the guys in orange, caved. At least enough of them caved to end up with an 18-point deficit that could have been worse.
Maybe Tennessee's first-year coach got his bright spot Wednesday morning.
He said a downcast junior Kenny Hall showed up in his office early with a question:
What does it take for me to get to that level?
"For me as a coach, that was a beautiful thing,'' Martin said.
In Martin's eyes, it takes a commitment and sacrifice and mental toughness that he's not sure exists in all his players — players who have yet to win a road game this season.
Some guys embrace the challenge of playing in a hostile environment and some don't.
"It is what it is,'' Martin said. "That's why you have role players and you have stars.''
This season has been a journey of discovery as to who has it and who doesn't. Martin implied that the journey, as it continues into the future, might not be for everyone.
End-of-year assessments will be revealing, he said:
"I'll sit down with guys and say, 'Are you willing to accept this particular role in order for our team to be successful?'
"I'm not a guy who believes in getting rid of players and all that, but you have to be honest with 'em, to let 'em know where you stand as a coach and exactly what you're looking for.''
Martin's date with the Tipoff audience had been set well in advance. While it followed a miserable outing, at least the upset of Connecticut was still fresh in the audience's mind.
He envisions more days like UConn and fewer like Vandy as he moves the program forward. Martin likes certain pieces already in place and promised that recruiting is going well, especially since the arrival of blue-chipper Jarnell Stokes.
He described his two November signees, Derek Reese and D'Montre Edwards, as long, rangy shooters who can play more than one position. Cory Stanton, a walk-on transfer, is a natural point guard who can push the offense and pressure the ball.
Should more roster openings arise from attrition, a big man would be desirable.
Said Martin, "I tell the guys now, 'All I can do is warn you. I say this in all sincerity. Now we've got guys knocking on the door. They want to be part of Tennessee basketball.'
"It's real simple. You play at a high level all the time because guys are going to be a part of this program. They know where we're headed.''
Just where is Tennessee headed?
"One day,'' said Martin, "this team will be the last team standing. I really feel that.
"I don't say that jokingly, I don't say it, like, 'Oh, man, give him another year on his contract.' I say it because I truly believe it.''
There's a lot of work between here and there. For now, Martin is figuring out who will be standing with him.
And, just as important, who won't.