Tennessee Basketball: New Coach Cuonzo Martin Must Work Quickly in Knoxville

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Tennessee Basketball: New Coach Cuonzo Martin Must Work Quickly in Knoxville
photo by Jeff Curry, US Presswire

In the end, the University of Tennesse got it right in selecting Cuonzo Martin as its next basketball coach. 

Shaka Smart’s stock is rising through the roof and Xavier’s Chris Mack said he wasn’t interested in UT, so the school had no choice but to find a coach off the radar. 

Martin’s head coaching resume is short, but coming from the Gene Keady coaching tree, indications are that he will be a successful regular-season coach if given time. 

Keady—whom Martin played for and coached under at Purdue—also has current Purdue coach Matt Painter, Illinois’ Bruce Weber, Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings and St. John’s' Steve Lavin stemming from his coaching tree. 

That’s a lot of wins.

They are all successful, so there’s no reason to think Martin isn’t qualified, especially after a year in which his Missiouri State team should have made the NCAA tournament. 

Now comes Martin’s first test.

A few days after convincing UT brass to hire him, Martin has to sell his current roster and potential signees on the Vols.

First on his plate are Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, two players expected to test the NBA draft waters.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson's returns are crucial if new Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin is a success next season.

According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, Harris projects as a mid-to-late-first-round pick while Hopson projects as a late-first-to-early-second-round pick. 

I don’t feel either is ready to be a NBA impact player. 

While Harris is a gifted team player, he seems to lack lift and his intermediate jumper was inconsistent for UT. 

Hopson’s issues are more mental than physical. When confident, he’s a force. When doubting himself, he disappears in games.

He too needs a more consistent outside shot and stronger body to make it in the NBA.

With one more year of seasoning, both are potential 2012 NBA lottery picks. Two lottery picks make any NCAA team dangerous. 

As lottery picks, Harris and Hopson would make more money over the course of their first NBA contracts than they would if they entered this year’s draft. 

With momentum from retaining Harris and Hopson, Martin could've hoped to convince highly touted recruits Chris Jones and Kevin Ware to stick to their commitments with UT.  

But half of that battle was lost today when Ware was released from his letter of intent, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel

So best-case scenario is Harris and Hopson decide to stay, and Jones decides to join UT.

But if Harris and Hopson declare for the draft, it could start a domino effect of player defections and uncertainty. 

Other roster issues Martin has to deal with include the post position.  

UT’s tallest listed players currently are 6'8" Kenny Hall and 6'7" Jeronne Maymon. Martin’s Missouri State team had three players over 6'8" last season. 

Hall gave the Vols decent minutes late in the season and could blossom during his junior season. 

Maymon is still an unknown, as his minutes diminished after he became eligible midseason. 

Martin may need to go the junior college route to find his post players for next season. 

There are a lot of “woulds,” “coulds” and “ifs” there for Martin’s first team. But if he can keep the players together and the NCAA Infractions Committee is lenient, he has a tournament team in his first year. 

If he can’t keep the roster together, it could get ugly in Knoxville.

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