Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) CUONZO MARTIN MEDIA DAY TRANSCRIPT
"First I would like to say, I really like this group of guys – fun to be around. I've been around a lot of teams, and this probably across the board, is one of the better teams I've been around – a close knit group, the camaraderie amongst these guys, the leadership. I think it's been great. It's been a lot of fun being around these guys, so that part is good.
"You guys hear us talk about ‘a tougher breed’ now, and that's something I think has been a part of our program, but now is probably the first time I've really revealed it as a coach, because I feel like we're built for it. I thought in spurts (last season) we showed a level of toughness as a team and I thought that was a brand. I didn't think it was right at the time to present it, but I think now is the time. We have the personnel across the board to wear that badge of honor, so to speak, because of the way you play all the time, regardless of the outcome. It's a brand and I feel good about it.
"I want to thank you guys. I really appreciate what you guys do as a media group. You give us tremendous exposure, and I think it helps us in a lot of ways. I respect the way you guys write and you have to do your job, but I just want to let you guys know we really appreciate the time and effort and energy you put into our program."
(On this 2013-14 team)
"Well I just think we have more talent across the board (than my first two years here), from top to bottom. I think (we took) over a team that had talented players, but they didn't play a lot of minutes. You can call it ‘young talent’ or ‘inexperienced talent.’ Those guys had to grow as a team. They took some lumps early and kept going as the season went along. (My first year at Tennessee, other than Trae Golden or maybe Skylar McBee), the other guys that returned didn't really play a whole lot of minutes, if they even played (at all).”
"I think looking at last year, you had guys who played a lot of minutes with the loss Jeronne Maymon. I thought we got better late in the season. But we had some talented guys, especially when you are talking about Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes. Two talented guys that finished the season very well. I think going into year three, we have top-to-bottom talent. Guys that can play the game. We have young guys who are very talented, experienced guys who are very talented. You have guys who have been in the trenches and guys who have played in big games. So now it's just a matter of gelling that talent together and finding minutes for guys. We have to make sure these guys are able to play together.
"I think the toughest part as a coach is when you have multiple guys that you really have to find roles for. We have to really embrace and accept our roles. That's why we talk a lot about family and togetherness, because what happens is once you start getting to this point and into the season, somebody has to accept their role in order for our team to be successful."
(On why this team is a "Tougher Breed")
"Just things they have gone through. I think you have to give a lot of credit to the work the guys put in in the weight room. That's Nicodemus Christopher, but also Chad Newman from a training standpoint, getting these guys in the cold tub, hot tub and the rehabs. So those two guys work hand-in-hand in order for our players to be healthy. And I think that since Nic has come on board, we haven't had any major injuries. The Jeronne injury happened before Nic was on board.
"But I think that's invaluable when you have a guy who can keep your guys healthy night-in and night-out – especially with the way we play, physically and grinding it out. You talk about some guys last season that played 30-plus minutes. It's a tough thing to do to be consistent from start to finish of a season."
(On recruiting in Memphis)
"We don't sit down and say, `This is a place we have to get all our players from.' I think more than anything, we have to get guys who fit our program. The type of guys who can help us win ballgames. Because you want talented guys and guys who identify with their roles, can play certain roles and can do different things in order for your team to be successful.
"But that is a place we have to recruit in to have success, and we've been blessed to get (Jarnell Stokes, Robert Hubbs III and Antonio Barton) to be a part of our program. But really we identify guys by the time they are freshmen and really start recruiting them. We have guys from Florida and all over who we build relationships with and whatever happens, happens in the end."
(On year No. 3 for a coach needing to be successful)
"I like to think from year-one we tried to do that, just from a brand and a style of play. But I think when you are trying to win championships and cutting nets down, you have to have the personnel to do that. You have to be talented enough. You can work hard and compete and be in games and be tough, but you have to have the talent and personnel to try and win it in the end. I think we have the talent to do that. But again, staying healthy and playing together and understanding roles will be big for our guys."
(On how the team can prevent a slow start this season)
"I think more than anything it’s getting off to a good start and executing on the offensive side of the ball. I think, again, both (our previous) years were very different. In the first year, it was just a new team. Not only were the guys trying to figure out me as a coach, I was trying to figure out these guys and the process. And then in year-two, we had one of our key guys go down. But I don't think we played as hard early on in the season last year. We got better as the season went on. We had three or four guys who really improved their game as the season went on. So it was a little bit different. I think this year, barring any major injury, we have all the pieces in place so we can run our offense, execute plays and know what we're doing when everyone is healthy. But we also have situations in place if we have to go to a four-guard lineup and different scenarios, because we prepared for it. Because those things happen."
(On who the ‘go-to’ guys are this season)
"I think unless other guys prove otherwise – according to how the season goes – it’s Jordan, Jeronne and Jarnell (Stokes). Those are the guys. The ball has to flow through those guys' hands. Any way, shape or form… every time down the court. Other guys will feed off how they are playing, but we have to get the ball inside. Jordan can score the ball, but the ball has to go inside. Those big guys have to touch the ball. They demand double teams. Those guys are good with one-on-one scoring the basketball. They are also good with facing up and making plays, but both of those guys are good at passing the basketball. But you have to get the ball inside to those guys. I think we are a better 3-point shooting team than the previous two years. But we can't just consume ourselves with shooting the 3-point shot all the time. We have got to get that ball inside."
(On the addition of senior transfer Antonio Barton helping get Vols to the NCAA Tournament)
"I think talent is talent. If you're good enough to be (in the NCAA Tournament), you'll be there. I think he can talk because he has been there. I just think these guys are hungry to be the best team we can possibly become at the end of the season. We are just really aggressive, and guys are working extremely hard. The veteran guys are really leading. The young guys want to be successful. At the end of the day, these guys have a passion (to make the NCAA Tournament)."
(On pressure to make the NCAA Tournament)
"As a coach, you want to make it. But as far as pressure, not at all. I don't put it on myself, and I hope (the players) don't put it on themselves. You compete to be the best team in the league. You coach, practice and prepare to win ballgames. For us, once the season starts, it's one game at a time. So that game that is presented is the most important game, and then we go onto the next one. That's how I see it."
(On freshman guard Robert Hubbs III)
"He's a very talented player – one of the best athletes I’ve been around, a guy in the 2-guard position, 6-feet-5-inches, 6-feet-6-inches, 200 -plus pounds as a high school guy, has a great build, can play a physical style of game, long arms. With Robert, as well as those other two guys as freshmen, one day at a time, continue to get better at your pace. There's a system we have in place, things we do every day, but just get better at your pace. That's the most important thing. I want Robert to be aggressive in scoring the basketball, attacking the rim, posting up as well, but one day at a time."
(On the team's expectations)
"We talk about a lot of life situations. Regardless of expectations or what's on the surface, we understand what we're trying to do as a program, how we approach the game every day, the level of toughness we need to play with, the things we need to do in order to be successful on and off the court. Those are the things we talk about all the time, but I think what happens with having a expectations is guys get excited, and that's normal. But for me as a coach, really I need to make them understand, it's one game at a time. The most important thing is, ‘Let's get better every day.’ I told the guys, we have 15 guys (on the team), and we probably have four guys right now who play hard from start to finish of practice. That's not an easy thing to do this early in the season; I mean from start to finish. You're talking about two hours, two and a half hours, sometimes three hours. You might go from 6:00-7:30 in the morning, come back in the p.m. and practice. That says a lot about a young man if he can go from start to finish just as hard as he can go. And at practice right now, I think we probably have four guys (who do that). Like I said, the other guys are not competing to the level we need to get at on a consistent basis. That's what we're working toward."
(On having experienced players)
"That helps a great deal. One thing about it – when I took over the program, especially for the guys like Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon, those guys that were in the program from day one – I said we'll do (drills), and by the time you guys become juniors, you'll see stuff every day and it becomes boring to you. That's when you really make your progress. Some of the stuff we do, probably 70 percent of the things we do, we do them all the time in practice. That's when you see us get better as a team, because they get better as individuals because they see it so much. The things we practice, especially from the defensive standpoint, most teams would build with any type of style defensively. I think for us offensively, you see guys working on the individual skills. And we spend a lot of time with skill development. Again, that's where you see guys make progress down the stretch of the season, because we spend so much time in those areas. But when you have experienced guys, all I like to do is say the name of a drill, and most guys know the drill themselves. I think right now Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon, those guys, they can actually run a practice. We have a format of what we would like to do at 10 minutes here, five minutes here, they have a feel for it.
(On areas in which the team can improve)
"Once you get in game situations, atmosphere changes, the talent of the opposing team changes. Seeing our guys continue to compete … I think that's the biggest key (for this team). But right now, I like what I'm seeing. We have a lot of pieces on the outside. Brandon Lopez is a dead six feet. Everybody else is 6-2 or taller. We have two guys about 6-2, and everybody else is 6-5 or taller, so you have the length. You have the size. You have guys who can make shots. You have guys, especially Jeronne, back where you should have four guys on the floor who can defend any position. So when you're able to do those types of things, it helps you on both ends of the floor."
(On playing different rotations)
"No, I'm not comfortable with (a 10-man rotation). Maybe earlier in the season, just depending on how we play. I think we could press a little bit with the personnel we have, but not out of control. I want to be aggressive, get in the passing lanes. I don't want to be out of control, because I still hate giving up baskets. Again, I think Antonio Barton is a guy that's been in (big-time) games. I just want to get a feel for him in practice on a consistent basis. But I think with Jarnell and Jeronne and Jordan, those guys will be in the rotation. I like to think that Josh Richardson (will be in the rotation), as well, because that's a guy who can defend for you. He's probably playing the best basketball across the board on both ends of the floor on the team (right now). When you have that type, you want those guys on the floor. Down the stretch of the game, you have to have your key guys on the floor. But I don't want those guys playing 35 plus minutes a night."
(On junior guard Josh Richardson)
"He's shooting it well. He's shooting it really well. But again, we do a lot of shooting drills. We've tried every shot. He's probably shooting 68 percent on an average since we started working out in September. I’d just like to see him maintain a level of confidence in shooting the basketball. I think he can shoot 3-point shots. He can make them, but I don't think he's a guy who shoots six or seven (3-pointers) a game. I think he's still a guy who slashes to the rim. He probably has one of the best pull-up games I've seen at the college level once you get into the lane going right or left, so I don't want him to take that away. But if he has a shot, he has to be able to knock it down."
(On junior-college transfer center Rawane “Pops” Ndiaye)
"I like what I'm seeing from Pops. Pops has good energy. The guys like being around him. He was MVP in practice yesterday. I thought he had the best practice. He plays hard, runs the floor well. I think those are some of the things I didn't see as much when I recruited him. But he runs the floor really well. He's a big body – he has to get better on both ends of the floor. He has decent hands, but I think defensively, we need him more (from that standpoint than we need him to score). I would rather have him more on the defensive side rather than as a post on offense. I think right now I'm more concerned with him getting better defensively."