KNOXVILLE — Tracy Webster has had every possible kind of basketball relationship with Cuonzo Martin for more than two decades.
Through playing against his new boss, Tennessee’s new head coach, in high school in Illinois, battling him in the Big Ten and coaching with him for a year and against him for another three, Webster knows Martin well.
“I definitely respect him,” the Volunteers assistant coach said, “just because he’s done a lot of great things. I know one thing that Coach Martin wants — he wants tough, hard-nosed basketball players — so right there, that would be the start.”
Webster’s career as Wisconsin’s point guard (1991-94) coincided with Martin’s days as a Purdue sharpshooter (1991-95) under former Boilermakers coach Gene Keady. The two spent the 2003-04 season at Purdue as assistants to Keady. Even though Webster took off for Illinois after just one season with Martin and Keady, he got a firsthand perspective of Martin as a coach under Keady, Martin’s biggest basketball influence.
“I just always looked at their teams and they had guys, maybe not All-Americans, but guys who were going to come put their hard hat on and just go play,” Webster said. “Working with him, they just had that winning mentality, and that’s one thing Coach Martin’s always had. He’s won at the high school level, he’s won at the college level and he did a great job as a coach.”
Martin spent eight seasons at Purdue with Keady and Matt Painter before becoming Missouri State’s head coach in 2008. He rebuilt that program in just three seasons, and though he’s never coached in the NCAA tournament, his pedigree is difficult to ignore.
Six former Keady assistants currently hold Division I jobs, including Painter, Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt, Bruce Weber at Illinois and Steve Lavin at St. John’s, where Keady is an assistant.
“Coach Keady obviously is a guy that’s meant a lot to them,” said UT assistant coach Kent Williams, who played for Weber and Painter at Southern Illinois, spent three seasons on staff at Purdue with Painter and Martin and followed Martin to Missouri State.
“Even though I’ve never worked for Coach Keady, it’s been obviously instilled in all of us, the toughness that he has with guys, the toughness that is put into the players. That toughness and character are two things that Coach Martin probably talks about the most.”
Only time will tell if Martin can translate the style of play of which he’s been a disciple since his playing career into wins at UT. But don’t expect him to veer too far away from what’s gotten him to where he is now.
“I’m very fortunate to be with Coach Martin,” said UT assistant coach Jon Harris, who first joined Martin at Missouri State. “He’s one of the best guys that I’ve been around. Take basketball out of it — he’s just a good person, really easy to be around and a very good motivator.
“With Coach Martin, what you see is what you get. What you earn is what you’re going to get. He expects our guys to work at a high level, especially on the defensive end. Regardless of who you are or where you came from, he’s going to hold you to the same standard.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...