KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- With possible NCAA sanctions looming, Tennessee officials are confident new men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin will win "the right way."
Martin accepted the job well aware of the potential hurdles swirling around the program.
The former Missouri State coach said during his introduction Monday that he has done his homework on the possible NCAA punishment and has also received assurances from athletics director Mike Hamilton regarding the situation.
|Cuonzo Martin calls the Vols gig 'a great job' and says 'whatever happens with the NCAA, I will be the coach.' (AP)|
Martin was one of 14 candidates Hamilton said Tennessee seriously considered and was introduced a week after Bruce Pearl was fired for recruiting violations. Pearl and the Vols' basketball program have been charged with 10 violations, including an unethical conduct charge against Pearl for lying to NCAA investigators.
School officials will go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on June 10-11, with final word on the Vols' punishment likely not coming until the fall.
Hamilton said he talked to Martin's former coach and boss at Purdue -- Gene Keady -- before deciding to hire him as someone who can win at Tennessee.
"Cuonzo will win at the University of Tennessee ... More than that, he's going to do it the right way," Hamilton said.
Tennessee gave Martin a five-year deal guaranteeing him $1.3 million plus bonuses related to the team's success with the option of a two-year extension after a 24-month review.
The school also gave Martin protection in his contract against whatever sanctions the NCAA does hand down. His original deal will be extended based on the number of years Tennessee is punished either with restrictions on recruiting, ban on postseason play or reduction of scholarships.
Martin noted Tennessee's rich tradition and how he played high school ball against eventual Vols star Allan Houston. He said he called Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and wished her luck in a regional semifinal against Notre Dame on Monday night, and he became a fan of Peyton Manning while living in Indiana.
When Tennessee officials contacted him, Martin said he checked into what the Vols face and weighed that against what he called "a great opportunity."
"I wouldn't say [there was] hesitancy, I would say it was more of asking questions," he said. "After that, there wasn't a lot of reservations at all."
Martin went 61-41 in three seasons at Missouri State after eight years as an assistant coach at Purdue under Keady and Matt Painter. During his tenure, the Bears improved from 11-20 in his first season to 26-9 in the 2010-11 season, earning them their first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship and Martin the MVC coach of the year honor.
As a player at Purdue, Martin scored 1,666 points in 127 career games and set the Boilermakers' single-game record for 3-pointers with eight in an NCAA regional semifinal victory over Kansas in 1994.
The East St. Louis, Ill., native was selected 57th overall in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks and played in the NBA for four years, including stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Vancouver Grizzlies.
While playing in Europe in November of 1997, Martin was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He returned to the United States for treatment of a malignant tumor between his heart and lungs, and is currently in full remission.
Keady, now a special assistant at St. John's, noted Martin's upbringing in a tough neighborhood and the multiple surgeries he needed to get his knees in shape to play in college and his fight against cancer had fully prepared him for whatever tough situations he would face at Tennessee.
"This will seem minor to him compared to what he's gone through," Keady said. "He has great integrity He's a first class guy and operates under the principles of good integrity."
Martin replaces a coach who went 145-61 in the past six seasons in Pearl. Martin said he would reach out to Pearl, who as an Iowa assistant recruited Martin coming out of high school.
Under Pearl, the Volunteers made school history during his tenure by achieving their first No. 1 ranking in 2008, winning their first Southeastern Conference regular-season championship in four decades and reaching their first NCAA tournament regional finals before missing out on a trip to the 2010 Final Four by a single point.
The Vols began the 2010-11 season on a seven-game winning streak that included a victory over Martin's Missouri State but struggled down the stretch, going 8-8 in Southeastern Conference play and losing 75-45 to Michigan in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Hamilton said he felt it was important to get Martin to Knoxville as soon as the decision was made to hire him so that Martin could begin working with the Vols.
"When you find the person who you believe can have success at the university, why do you want to prolong something," Hamilton said. "Cuonzo was a guy who was actually sought by other universities as well, and once we became familiar with him and comfortable with him, we decided that we wanted to go ahead and get a leader in front of these young men so they can begin the healing process and get ready for the 2011-2012 season."