KNOXVILLE — The situation isn't totally unfamiliar for
Bob Kesling, left, listens as Coach Cuonzo Martin answers a question from the crowd about the future of University of Tennessee basketball. The University of Tennessee National Alumni Association hosted the Orange Caravan stop at the Cleveland County Club on Thursday. Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press
The eight players gone off Tennessee's roster from last season took a large chunk of the production with them, but the Volunteers' new basketball coach is taking control of situation that certainly is daunting with previous experience of how to handle it.
It's a situation Martin faced during his playing career at Purdue and when he took over his first college head-coaching job at Missouri State after eight seasons as an assistant with the Boilermakers. That Bears team, with just six scholarship players, won 11 games.
“It's just one of those deals [where] you have a bunch of guys that were role players and some guys who didn't play a role,” Martin said before speaking at the Big Orange Caravan stop in Cleveland last week.
“So now it's trying to find a guy that can be a leading guy, leading scorer, leading post guy, leading perimeter guy, guy that can run off screens. Those things we have to find out as a staff.”
With the departure of six seniors and the weekend decisions of leading scorers Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris to remain in the NBA draft as underclassmen, the Vols will be without almost 79 percent of their scoring and 73 percent of their rebounding from last season.
Martin encountered similar — albeit slightly less devastating — circumstances of roster turnover when he took the Missouri State job in 2008. He inherited a roster that lost six players, nearly 57 percent of its average points and nearly 62 percent of its average boards per game.
For Martin's first UT team to remain competitive against a difficult non-conference schedule and within the Southeastern Conference, he'll need those role players and scout-team guys from year ago to accomplish the difficult task of becoming spotlight players that can carry a team in specific areas on and off the floor.
“It's not impossible because I did it as a player, so you can do it if you want to be a great player,” said Martin, who is fourth on Purdue's all-time list of made 3-pointers despite not making a single trey in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“I think these guys have the tools necessary to do that, but I think it's a combination of putting the skill work in between the summer and the fall, but also having the confidence within to be successful. Not just me giving it to them as a coach and us giving it to them as a staff, but them having the confidence within to be successful and understand they can be just as good as anybody.”
Trae Golden, a prolific scorer in high school, likely takes over as UT's point guard, and Kenny Hall, the Vols' only returning center, will get as many minutes as he can handle in the paint. Guard Skylar McBee and forward Jeronne Maymon bounced between the scout team and the rotation.
Talented wings Jordan McRae and Renaldo Woolridge showed glimpses of their ability to score the basketball on the Vols' scout team last season, but their maturity and defensive development could determine their reliability and consistency. UT's freshmen will also get a chance to prove themselves.
All the questions, though, likely won't be answered until the fall, when Martin will get his first opportunity to coach his full squad. He's only had individual workout sessions so far.
“When you get into fall play and live situations of five-on-five, the guys are really clashing,” Martin said. “Who's defending? Who's rebounding? Who's running the floor? Who's really physical? Once you get into the fall you can get a gauge of who would be a go-to guy.
“I made those guys understand [the] reality. How are you able to get better, what can you do to help this team be successful and I think that's also my job as a coach of putting us in a position to be successful.”
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 ...
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