KNOXVILLE — The first mention Tobias Harris saw of Cuonzo Martin leaving Tennessee for the head coaching job at California on Tuesday was a post on Twitter.
The former Volunteers forward, who will wrap up his third NBA season when his Orlando Magic host the Indiana Pacers tonight, didn't think it was real.
"To be honest, at first I thought it was a joke," Harris told the Times Free Press via phone Tuesday afternoon. "I thought it was little fake rumor out there. When I saw it was true, I was surprised at the whole thing.
"College basketball, this is a business, and it's just like any other type of situation. Coach Martin, he felt it was the best situation for himself and his family, and that was to go to California. You can't be mad at the man. He did a great job at Tennessee. He's just taking another path in his coaching career."
Martin's departure for the West Coast caught many in and around Tennessee's program by surprise, and it generated a wide reaction from returning players, the Vols' four incoming signees and pundits across the country.
Josh Richardson, the rising senior guard expected to be the Vols' leader next season, took to Twitter to share his reaction.
"Best of luck to Coach at Cal. Did what he had to do," he wrote.
Robert Hubbs Jr., the father of Vols rising sophomore Robert Hubbs III, told the Times Free Press via phone that Martin's surprising departure "stung me a little bit."
Hubbs Jr. said his son, a former five-star recruit who missed most of this season with a shoulder injury, broke the news to him late Tuesday morning.
"It kind of shocked him a little bit," the elder Hubbs said. "He was looking forward to playing with Cuonzo again next year after he talked to him and told him that he was going to stay. But I told him that he's got to do what's best for his family and you've got to do what's best for your family.
"What we've got to do now is see who's going to come in. I told him that he's still Tennessee Vols right now, and we're going to look to see what coach is coming in to fill those shoes."
Asked if his son would remain at Tennessee no matter what or if he was taking a wait-and-see approach, Hubbs said, "As of right now, we're still a Tennessee Vol. I'll just leave it at that."
Tennessee added 7-foot-1 center Kingsley Okoroh to its 2014 recruiting class on Monday, but the England native announced on his Twitter account he'd switched his commitment to follow Martin to Cal.
The Vols' other four signees -- point guard Larry Austin, swingman Jordan Cornish and forwards Phil Cofer and C.J. Turman -- are stuck in a bit of a holding pattern for now.
Cornish posted on his Twitter account that he wasn't taking any calls or text messages and was "taking it day by day."
When reached for his reaction by the Times Free Press, Turman replied via text message, "I really don't know what to say." Asked if he knew what his next move was, Turman responded, "Nah I don't."
Cofer did not return a phone call from the Times Free Press, and Austin also was silent.
"We fully expect those young men to be a part of our basketball program," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. "It's a tough time for everybody in terms of our current players and those signees, because right now there is a void for them. That's difficult to handle. It would be difficult to handle for any of us, even more so for young people."
Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon, seniors for Tennessee this season, also took to Twitter to react.
"Can't treat people any kind of what and expect good in return," McRae posted.
"Not even surprised ... It was just a matter of time!" Maymon tweeted.
Even while averaging 14.8 points and 7.1 rebounds for Orlando this season, Harris, who played his lone season at Tennessee in former coach Bruce Pearl's final season in 2010-11 and declared for the NBA draft shortly after Martin's hiring, kept a watchful eye on the Vols.
He was well aware of the online petition to bring Pearl back and the unrest among a vocal minority of the fan base.
"Tennessee has some of the best fans in the country," Harris said. "You have to support your coach through whatever it is.
"To think," he added, "that you had people signing petitions so he could get fired, then the man leads the team to the Sweet 16, and now he's decided to go to California and everybody's upset. But at the same time, if you look at all the stuff, it's kind of like the fans kind of ran him out of there."
Harris said he understands fans "just want to win," and he hopes Martin's decision to leave serves as a lesson.
"A coach has to take his time, have the support of all the fans and, at the same time, he has to do what he needs to do," Harris said. "I thought Coach Martin did a great job with that. He was obviously doing great things, but now he's at California, so let's not be mad at the man.
"Let's be happy for him, and let's learn from this and move on and hire a new coach and fully support him 100 percent."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.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 ...