Though the weight grew heavy, Tennessee men’s basketball has emerged from a week seemingly subscribed to adversity.
Veteran point guard Trae Golden isn’t returning.
One-time incoming freshman Travon Landry isn’t coming.
A scuff mark is left behind on the Vols’ public perception.
Cuonzo Martin hopes the 2013-14 season will buff it off. Golden’s departure, he says, has no effect on expectations.
It’s still NCAA tournament or bust.
“It’s very important,” Martin said. “You have the personnel to be there, so you should be there. That part should be understood. It’s a given. You have the personnel, the pieces, the returning talent and incoming talent where you should be an NCAA tournament team.”
So that’s that.
Even without Golden, Tennessee returns two All-SEC performers in Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes. They’ll be joined, Martin hopes, by a repaired, restored and refreshed Jerone Maymon. The 6-foot-7 senior forward lost one year to a knee injury but is, by all accounts, on pace for 2013-14.
The meat of Martin’s roster, highlighted by rising junior guard Josh Richardson and fleshed out by incoming freshmen guards Robert Hubbs III and Darius Thompson, and posts A.J. Davis and Rawane Ndiaye, offers depth.
“I feel good about it,” Martin said. “Offensively, you’ve got a lot of guys who can score the ball. Defensively, I think you’ve got two or three guys who will be fighting for defensive player of the year. Then there are some talented young freshmen coming in. It’s very exciting.”
Martin is 39-28 and 21-13 in SEC play over two seasons at UT. Both ended in the National Invitation Tournament.
The upcoming campaign is crucial. An NCAA tournament is needed on the resume. That is, though, just a dot far down the road.
While Martin is ready to move forward, progenies from the week that was persist.
It began with news that Landry, who had been committed to UT since December 2011 and signed since November 2012, was released from his National Letter of Intent.
Common sense said Landry was nudged out the door. Common sense was confirmed when Landry’s father, John Landry, told the News Sentinel his son was asked to request a release from his NLI and Martin publicly took blame for the ill-advised “talent evaluation.”
The boom of Landry’s non-arrival was followed by the thunderclap of Golden’s exit. That came on Wednesday when UT announced his transfer. Reports surfaced citing academic issues as the cause, but the rumor mill still hemorrhaged.
These were only the latest events in an offseason rooted in the nuances of scholarship shuffling. Martin’s roster contained two too many scholarship players in mid-April.
Now mid-May, it’s one under the NCAA limit of 12.
Much of the reordering, including the signings of Thompson and Ndiaye and the transfer of Yemi Makanjuola, stood vulnerable to interpretation, and attacks. Critiques and criticism have stomped around for stretches of the offseason. All the armies — media, message boards, fans — have engaged.
It’s almost forgotten that UT has seen plenty of bright spots. McRae and Stokes opted not to enter the NBA draft. Monday night brougt a verbal commitment from 2014 shooting guard Jordan Cornish from New Orleans.
But Golden’s departure scribbles a new concern — UT does not have a point guard on the roster.
Looking ahead to next season, Martin says Thompson is “the guy right now.” But Thompson, a 6-foot-4 guard from Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, is built like a pinky and has only played point for one year.
“Then you’ve got Armani (Moore) and Josh. I don’t want to have Jordan (McRae) in that position,” Martin said.
That’s a tad light for a team with NCAA tournament hopes.
Thus, there still could very well be someone else in that position. Martin holds an open scholarship and some options reside in the transfer market.
“We’re looking,” he said.
In the meantime, the current Vols are back on the floor. The goal remains unchanged.
Despite a turbulent week.
“They want to be an NCAA tournament team,” Martin said. “They’re hungry. They’ve been attacking these offseason workouts.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.