Connections key for new UT staff

Connections key for new UT staff

April 5th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports

Cuonzo Martin, hired as head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Announced Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cuonzo Martin, hired as head basketball coach at...

KNOXVILLE - Stability and continuity aren't synonymous with coaching changes.

Yet there's a unique set of connections for the three current members of Tennessee's new basketball coaching staff.

"I think it's huge, I really do, especially in the recruiting scene [that] is so competitive," assistant coach Jon Harris said Monday evening in his first visit with the media since he was hired by new Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin last week. "As a staff, you've really got to have a close-knit group, a family setting. We trust each other, the loyalty is there and we really know what we're getting with each other. I think that's half the battle going forward ... really just having that loyalty and that bond."

Martin, Harris and assistant coach Kent Williams coached together for three seasons in building Missouri State's program from an 11-win season with a decimated roster to Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion. But the connections extend earlier than their time together in Springfield, Mo.

"I grew up watching [Martin] play, so I've known of him all my life," said the 30-year-old Harris. "I have a brother that's his age, and I used to go to their games in high school. When I was at Wisconsin-Green Bay I recruited the state of Indiana, so I was really at a lot of the same games that he and the Purdue staff were at, and I'd sit with those guys talking about different kids in the area. That's how really I got to know him."

Harris played in high school in Illinois against the 29-year-old Williams, who was Purdue's supervisor of basketball operations with Martin for three years following a stellar career at Southern Illinois and one season in the NBA Development League. Harris, at Edwardsville High, and Williams, Mount Vernon High's all-time leading scorer, were second-team all-state selections in 1997.

Though both are still relatively early in their coaching careers and taking the step up from a mid-major program to the Southeastern Conference, Harris thinks their youth could help the new assistants relate to players and recruits.

"We've been there. We've played and we've been where these guys are trying to get, so just having that experience is an asset," said Harris, who recruited the Southeast region at Missouri State. "There's nothing our guys are going to see on the court, off the court, in the classroom that somebody on our staff hasn't already been through."

Harris and Martin began building relationships with their new team last week, a process that took to the court on Monday for the beginning of individual workouts.

"The energy level was really high, and the guys really played hard and competed," Harris said. "They were trying to motivate each other, and that's the start. It's going to take time. They've been receptive to this point. I think everybody's excited about the transition, and they've really come in with an open mind and they're willing to work with us. They have to have a blind faith moving forward, and they've done that to this point."

Harris didn't have one specific role on Martin's Missouri State staff, and he'll combine his knowledge of the game with his intangibles.

"I think I have a good sense of the game as far as X's and O's," said the former Marquette standout who played with Dwayne Wade for two years and coached the NBA star for another. "I bring a high level of energy. I'm a passionate guy. I wouldn't say emotional, but just really trying to motivate the guys. I think I can do that pretty well.

"That's a good thing about our staff is everybody really does the same thing. We all do scouting reports, we all do game preparations, so we can all really see where our advantages or disadvantages may be going into a game."