Cuonzo ‘gonzo’ about Vol fans

Cuonzo ‘gonzo’ about Vol fans
Cuonzo 'gonzo' about Vol fans

UT men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin signs a basketball during Monday’s Big Orange Caravan stop.
Cuonzo (Conzo) is “gonzo” about the Vol Nation.
The new University of Tennessee men’s basketball skipper — hired in March after the dismissal of Bruce Pearl amid a NCAA investigation and rumors of a new rules infraction — was in Union City Monday to greet local fans of the school’s athletics programs.
“It’s great being part of the Tennessee family,” said Martin, who played college basketball at Purdue University and also had a stint in the NBA with the Vancouver Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks. “I’m just excited about being here and getting to work.”
That said, Martin’s workload in terms of the 2011-12 campaign may have gotten more difficult over the weekend as starters Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson both elected to throw their names into the NBA draft’s hat.
 “I think there’s some guys on this team that haven’t gotten the credit that they deserve,” Martin said. “They’ve been filling roles on the team. Now, they have a chance to step up into a leadership role and stand on their own.
“To me, (losing Harris and Hopson to the pros before their college eligibility expires) it’s the same as losing seniors to graduation. You just pick up and move on. ”
Also, Martin — 61-41 in three years as the skipper at Missouri State prior to his hiring at UT — believes the addition of two of the program’s biggest current stars into the NBA will be a plus for the Volunteers in the long run.
“That’s just two more players in the NBA that I can say came through the Tennessee program,” he said. “It will be a big plus in terms of recruiting to point out two more players from here that have gone on to the NBA.
“I wish both of those guys nothing but the best.”
Coincidentally, the best is who Martin is seeking on the recruiting trail, but the Vol skipper doesn’t put much stock into the rating system that ranks athletes as three- or four-star recruits.
“I recruit the best players available,” he said. “It’s important to get talented players, but the two-star, three-star or four-star rating doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I think I’m pretty good at evaluating who has talent.
“The ratings are great for the fans to talk about, but look at the percentage of McDonald’s High All-Americans that don’t make it to the NBA.”
Thus far, Martin has inked Memphis point guard Chris Jones (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) to a National Letter of Intent. Jones is ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com.
Tennessee’s 2011 recruiting class also includes PG Wes Washpun (6-foot-1, 170). Jones will reportedly enroll at Northwest Florida State College in an effort to raise his academic standing.
Additionally, a pair of shooting guards — Josh Richardson (6-foot-5, 180) of Edmund, Okla., and Quinton Chievous (6-5, 195) from Chicago — have committed to the Vol program.
Tennessee reportedly added another play recently as Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 235) of Nigeria committed to the program.
That said, the possibility for NCAA penalty certainly has crossed Martin’s mind in the aftermath of Pearl’s tenure in Knoxville.
Pearl was fired in March amid speculation he may have committed another recruiting violation just days after a tearful press conference in which he acknowledged giving NCAA investigators false information when asked about a cookout where he reportedly hosted high school juniors.
A decision regarding a NCAA penalty for the Tennessee basketball program as well as sanctions on the school’s football team for violations by former skipper Lane Kiffin
For now, Martin isn’t worried about what the NCAA may have in store for his new employer.
“It hasn’t affected us any right now,” Martin said of the possible NCAA penalty. “If they do something or make a ruling, we’ll see what happens.
In terms of this recruiting class, it has been a non-issue.”
Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at kcoker@ucmessenger.com.

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