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Martin spurs Vols' attitude, toughness

Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin (left) speaks with WVLT reporter Jeff Archer during the Vols annual media day on Thursday afternoon.
Published: 1:07 AM, 10/13/2012 Last updated: 1:15 AM, 10/13/2012

Author: Seth Butler
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

KNOXVILLE-When Cuonzo Martin arrived in Knoxville to captain the Big Orange Basketball ship last March, there were a lot of uncertainties.

Questions surrounded the Tennessee basketball program after the dismissal of successful coach Bruce Pearl.

Even more of them surrounded what an unproven commodity in Martin could do with the Vols. After early season losses to Oakland and Austin-Peay those questions grew larger.

But after a turnaround that saw the Vols win eight of their final nine SEC games last year, en route to a second place finish in the league, their now are answers on what Martin can do for the Vols.

His players also have answers on what Martin can do for them.

"You kind of go into it not knowing what to expect," Tennessee point guard Trae Golden said at UT basketball media day on Thursday. "You get a year under your bet under coach Martin and you
realize the hard work it takes."

Martin immediately placed his stamp on the Vols basketball program with instilling toughness and hard nosed play the day he arrived in Knoxville.

It's something his players adapted too. And it's something Tennessee opponents took notice of last season.

"He put toughness in this program and a lot of people will vouch for that," Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon said. "We go out there and play tough."

That style of play is something that gives the Vols a decided advantage. With four post players capable of dominating the game, the inside presence is more capable of giving the Vols victories than relying on a finesse back court led game.

Tennessee stayed with powerful opponents early in the season with the strength of Maymon's production and then thrived in February with the arrival of Jarnell Stokes and the development of Yemi Makanjuola.

"(Martin) always says go out there and play ugly and that's how we try to go out there and play," Maymon said. "No matter how ugly it is - we could shoot 30 percent from the line and the field - but if we go out there and get the win - it's an ugly win, but we got it.

"We just try to go out there and play tough and try to take over the game every time," Maymon said.

While Stokes was fresh out of high school and adapting to the collegiate game, he was also finding out about how demanding playing for Martin was.

Stokes had not played basketball since the previous summer and was trying to get himself in shape. Practice was no place to learn, since Stokes said it was a game night environment.

"In practice, you never know what to expect," Stokes said. "You know coming in you better prepare for practice like it's a game, because he is always going to get the most out of you.

"He definitely brings a lot of toughness," Stokes said.

However it's that toughness that was the reason for the Vols' success down the final month of the 2011-12 season. Tennessee reeled off eight wins in their final nine games, the lone loss to eventual national champion Kentucky.

"A lot of his drills, we may be working on ball handling, but there's always a defender out there," Stokes said. "There's a reason why we were one of the top teams on defense in the SEC last year."

Yet, aside from the incentive of winning, what has made Tennessee players adapt themselves from a finesse game of Pearl to the tough one employed by Martin?

According to his players, it is his ability to relate to the current team and to be an all-around players coach.

"He doesn't try to change your game," Golden said. "He tries to play to your strengths, so I think he's a players coach.

"If you played for him, he'd play to any strength you'd have, so I think that's the great thing about coach Martin," Golden said.

However, it's Martin's off-court presence on the program that has made the biggest impact.

"Bigger than anything, he's a good person," Golden said. "He's not a coach that forgets that he's human.

"He's a great person and everyone on this team can attest to that. That's the huge thing," Golden said.

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