KNOXVILLE — One phone call to a familiar place eventually led Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin to his next strength and conditioning coach.
The former Purdue assistant called his alma mater and found Nicodemus Christopher, whom Martin tabbed Thursday to replace Troy Wills.
Now Martin is hoping the Boilermakers' special performance assistant can take his Volunteers team to the next level.
"For me it's just as important, when you have a strength and conditioning guy, he's like one of my assistant coaches," Martin said by phone Friday. "There's great value to a guy like that. He has to be in tune to everything that's going on with our players from their eating habits, what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner [and] what they're getting at the grocery store.
"That's an everyday lifestyle."
Christopher, a San Diego native who holds degrees from Baylor and the Texas-Tyler, spent one year at Purdue working with the softball and track and field programs and assisting the Boilermakers' basketball program's speed and conditioning coordinator. His other collegiate experience came at Stanford in the fall of 2012. Most of Christopher's work came with professional athletes in the Dallas area.
At two different performance centers, Christopher trained members of the NHL's Stars and Major League Soccer's F.C. Dallas and helped in training-camp preparation for the NFL's Cowboys. That variety of experience, plus his work ethic, put Christopher over the top, Martin said.
UT's second-year coach spent eight years as a Purdue assistant after playing for the Boilermakers.
Wills spent eight seasons as UT's strength coach, but he was not retained as Martin decided to go in a different direction.
"I think with any guy, it's bigger, stronger, faster," Martin said. "That's kind of understood, but the nest step [through] the relationship with the players is taking them to the next level where their skill level [and] strength and conditioning is not a factor or an issue when they step on the floor. It's not just lifting weights and conditioning.
"It's that next step: eating right, strengthening the mind when you're strength and conditioning, and it's all those things combined."
ESPN announced Friday the matchups for the SEC/Big East Challenge, and UT drew a trip to Georgetown on Nov. 30. The Hoyas finished fourth in the brutal Big East and won an NCAA tournament game last season. Martin's memories of Georgetown go back to the 1980s, though.
"They have a tremendous history and tradition," he said. "That was one my favorite teams, if not my favorite team to watch growing up to see Coach [John] Thompson coaching that Georgetown team. I think it will be great for our fans to play against a team with such a basketball history."
UT beat Marquette in 2008 and split a home-and-home series with Pittsburgh in the event the past two seasons. Georgetown won in Knoxville in the 2003 NIT, and the Vols won the most recent matchup in the 2008 Old Spice Classic.
Memphis, Virginia, Xavier and Wichita State are some other teams slated to be on UT's nonconference schedule.
As part of his June statewide tour of youth basketball camps, Martin and his staff are conducting a clinic for kids from kindergarten through the sixth grade at Baylor School on June 11. It's limited to the first 100 participants. The cost is $20, and campers can register at tennesseesportcamps.com.
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 ...