Cuonzo Martin sees the University of Tennessee as a lifelong commitment for himself, and a four-year one for those who will play for him.
The new Volunteers’ basketball coach was specific in terms of the type of player he will recruit when he met the media for the first time in his new role Monday even as he acknowledged the possibility that his ability to recruit might be compromised in the near future.
“You want four-year guys,” the 39-year-old said. “You can have great players and they can still be NBA guys if they stay in school for four years. Now they get what they really came for — to be successful on the floor and to get a degree.
“[We will] recruit best players available — with a high level of character and substance to them. … It’s not just a ballplayer. I want more than just a guy who can put the ball in the basket. I want well-rounded young men.”
Martin was hired Sunday to replace Bruce Pearl, who was fired less than a week earlier in the wake of an NCAA investigation of his recruiting practices and his failure to tell the truth when questioned about some instances.
Pearl served an eight-game conference suspension during the season, which ended with an embarrassing 30-point defeat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The belief, however, is that the NCAA eventually will impose future sanctions on the program.
“[Director of Athletics] Mike [Hamilton] assured me everything will work out and I support that 100 percent,” Martin said. “Whatever happens with the NCAA, I’m going to coach the ball team and try to be successful doing it. So I’m really not worried about what the NCAA has to do or has to say. We’ll just kind of wait and see what happens.”
Martin comes to UT after three years as head coach at Missouri State, where his team improved from 11 victories in 2008-09 to 26 and a regular-season Missouri Valley Conference title this past season. He is a finalist for two national coach of the year awards, which will be announced during the upcoming Final Four.
Martin preaches efficiency on offense, which leads to a lot of points and few turnovers. Defensively, he is devoted to a “real aggressive” man-to-man approach.
“If we have to play zone defense, then we’re in trouble,” he said.
Even as he espoused the virtues of players who exhaust their college eligibility, he said he already had discussed with junior Scotty Hopson and freshman Tobias Harris their desire to explore their possibilities for this year’s NBA draft and said he encouraged them to engage fully in the process of determining their status before they make a final decision. Hopson and Harris accounted for nearly half of the Volunteers’ points this past season.
Either way, he made it clear he has no intention to go anywhere anytime soon.
“My goal whenever I get some place is that it’s my final destination, it’s not a pit stop for me, just as it is here, it’s my final destination,” he said. “I hope that is the case. … I think we’ll have a lot of fun because it’s fun coaching good guys that want to do the right things, do them the right way.
“It’s just a great opportunity. When opportunities knock and they present themselves at a high opportunity, you have to look into them.”