DESTIN, Fla. — Cuonzo Martin and his family went their separate ways at the SEC spring meetings Tuesday.
The rest of his family went to the beach. The Tennessee men's basketball coach went to work.
Martin was thumbing through a notebook, readying himself for the various issues the coaches would be discussing at the meetings. He had different priorities at last year's meetings. And they didn't include the beach.
"I was sitting there thinking about what my guys were doing back in Knoxville," Martin said. "Because here was so much going on trying to establish a program.
"Plus I didn't really have a true idea what we were meeting about. I don't even know if I got the booklet in time.
"I'm in a better place now than I was a year ago."
So is his program.
The Vols are no longer a team in transition. They return most of the prominent players from last season's 19-win team, which further distinguished itself by winning 10 of 16 regular-season SEC games, including two against Florida.
"As I looked at our schedule last year and looked at our personnel … no way in the world we could have 19 wins," Martin said of his first season as Bruce Pearl's successor. "I didn't think we had a level of toughness as a team."
The team changed his mind over the course of the season. It also raised expectations for 2012-13.
"On paper, they're the best team in this league going into this season," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I told somebody toward the end of last season, I thought Tennessee and Kentucky should be the two best teams in the league (in 2012-13)."
The expectations for national champion Kentucky are based on coach John Calipari's recent history of signing the nation's best players and quickly molding them into a dominant team before sending most of them into the NBA.
The expectations for UT are founded more in last season's success and all the experience it provided.
"They have incredible experience," Donovan said. "I think they have everything — front-court depth, shooting."
They also have a hunger for success and a heightened sense of accountability for themselves as well as their teammates, Martin said. But their attributes aren't limited to intangibles.
Jeronne Maymon has made second-team All-SEC and is a proven piece in what could be a formidable front line. Martin believes Kenny Hall is positioning himself for a breakout season and matter-of-factly refers to sophomore Jarnell Stokes as one of the best returning players in the country,
"(Stokes) will be a lot better player," Martin said of the precocious player who joined the team at mid-season right out of high school in 2012. "I saw the transition from when we started spring workouts to the end of school. If you tell him this is what you need to do to be successful, he's going to work at that.
"He didn't have four or five months to really grow (last season). Now, he has seen the league and knows the competition."
Even while assessing individuals, Martin doesn't venture too far from the team concept that he regards as the foundation for his program.
"The biggest key is the focus level, continuing to understand 'team' is what got us there," he said. "And we want to minimize the distractions going into the fall.
"We talk about that all the time. We call it 'going under the radar until it's time to play.' "
But if Donovan's opinion about UT become widespread in preseason, going under the radar will be more difficult than making the NCAA tournament.