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    • SEC "Fast Break": February 26

      Apparently, eight Southeastern Conference teams were having so much fun last Saturday they didn’t want it to end.
    • SEC Fast Break with Chris Dortch

      The first month of the season was largely forgettable for the Southeastern Conference by almost any barometer. Where to start?
    • November Offers Challenges for SEC Teams

      It seems like only yesterday Kentucky players were cutting down the nets in the New Orleans Superdome after winning the Southeastern Conference’s third national championship in a seven-year span. But that was more than seven months ago, and now it’s time for college basketball to crank up again.
    • One on One with Chris Dortch: Marquis Teague

      Was there ever a question Marquis Teague could take his place among the elite point guards coached the last four seasons by Kentucky’s John Calipari? We profile Teague, a likely first round pick in this week's NBA Draft.
    • Instant Reaction: Kentucky Claims Title

      About a month ago, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari asked a question of his team.

    One-On-One With Chris Dortch: Cuonzo Martin

    Editor’s note: Monday was a busy day for Cuonzo Martin, who was hired as Tennessee’s new basketball coach and introduced to fans, boosters and the media. Though his time was at a premium, Martin was kind enough to sit down with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch for his weekly One-On-One series on the SEC Digital Network:

    Chris Dortch: Your name was mentioned with at least two other power conference jobs that are open. What attracted you to Tennessee?
    Cuonzo Martin: I think you want to go for the best situation possible that fits you as a coach; where you feel like you can have the best success. Obviously there were a couple of other opportunities out there, but this was the best situation for me and my family.

    CD: You inherit a program that has been to six straight NCAA Tournaments but is also facing NCAA sanctions. So the good outweighed the bad in your mind?
    CM: Obviously, there were some things swirling around about NCAA [violations]. But once I got some background—and obviously you don’t know what the NCAA is going to do as far as a decision right now—and even with the worst-case scenario, I still felt like this was a great opportunity for me.
    It was a program that’s had some success. Even before Bruce Pearl got here, but Bruce did a great job here in six years. In some programs, you go and start from scratch, but this was a really good situation. There are some seniors leaving and a couple of guys thinking about going into the draft, but there is a core of talent coming back. That’s always a good sign.

    CD: Can you talk about how your background [Martin is from East St. Louis, Ill.] shaped you as a person and a coach?
    CM: My mother talked all the time about dream big. When we were younger, we really didn’t know what it meant. The only thing I thought was NBA, that’s all that mattered. But she always talked about dreaming big and believing in more than what you see.

    I was able to get a college degree, have some success at Purdue as a player, and as a coach. I was able to put myself in a good family in the basketball world [former Purdue coach Gene Keady and his coaching tree that includes Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, Purdue’s Matt Painter and St. John’s Steve Lavin].
    I thought it was God’s plan to play for coach Keady. I had a lot of opportunities when I was being recruited. Coach Keady came in and said you’ll do the right things, go to class every day, get a degree. He didn’t promise playing time. But my mom said ‘I think this is the best situation for you.’
    I’ll always remember my mom for having the strength to push forward through tough times.

    CD: How weird is it that, as a player in 1990, you were headed to Illinois before the Deon Thomas recruiting issue broke, and the man who helped break it was Bruce Pearl, who you are replacing at Tennessee?
    CM: It’s amazing. I was headed to Illinois. But then when I heard about NCAA sanctions, that something might happen, a young guy really didn’t know at the time. I just decided to look at Purdue and Connecticut, and Purdue was the place I ended up. I felt like Purdue was the best place for me.

    CD: Talk about the influence your former coach at Purdue, Gene Keady, had on you.
    CM: One of the things, among many, outside of what he taught me as a basketball player, he had great values and he taught me how to become a man. How to do the right thing all the time. How to be on time. How to work hard. How to go to class every day, not make it optional, but to actually go every day. Just doing the right thing. Being productive. Holding your teammates accountable.

    Those are the things he talked about all the time. As a young guy trying to find your way, you really don’t understand what he’s saying. But when you become a junior or senior you realize the big picture and what he was talking about. Now when I became a coach, I understood, and I’m trying to tell my players the same things. I got a great deal of values from coach about how to handle your business off the court.

    CD: What did coach Keady tell you when you were considering taking the Tennessee job?
    CM: Coach said that you want to put yourself in the best position to be successful. One thing he always talks about is administrative support. He figures you’ll find your way as far as coaching. But he thinks you’ve got to have the support to be successful. It has to be a commitment from both parties.
    Obviously as a coach you have to do your job in recruiting, getting players and being successful on and off the court. But you want everybody to be a part of your success. For me the football program, women’s basketball, everybody’s successful at Tennessee because it’s a family. That speaks volumes about the university.

    CD: Talk about defense being the bedrock of your philosophy.
    CM: For us it has to be a way of life. That’s what we talk about every day. This will give us a chance to win games. If you’re missing shots, if you’re best player’s not scoring the ball well, at least we can hang our hat on our defense. We know that will be a constant every day of the week. More times than not you have a chance to be successful over a consistent period of time. Not just a season, but every year you have a chance to be successful.

    CD: And your preferred choice of defense is man-to-man?
    CM: A hard-nosed, physical man-to-man, and your best players have to buy into it. And then your role guys will follow suit.

    CD: Your teams have also been high scoring. How do you produce a prolific scoring unit that guards as intensely as your teams do? Don’t your players get drained?
    CM: Some time conditioning can be overrated. In college I had knee surgery, so I never conditioned with the team. I didn’t go outside and do any concrete running; my conditioning was on the floor. I used to joke with coach Keady, ‘why do we have to do conditioning outside?’ Your conditioning is up and down the floor. You can go outside and run 10 miles, but go inside and run up and down the court three times and be dead tired.

    So for us, our conditioning is really on the court—how we do our practice drills. We do a lot of full-court one-on-one defensive stuff. If you can guard a guy full-court one-on-one consistently … it’s easy to guard a guy half-court one-on-one for three seconds. Those are the things we try to teach on a consistent basis. Even our big guys—to really defend at a high level.

    CD: Is help-side defense a key to what you teach?
    CM: Without a doubt. Our defense is really parts of the whole. We teach a lot of one-on-one defending. The next phase is the help-side defense. Everybody has their own style, but we don’t want to teach help early. Then you rely on help. We teach individual one-on-one defense, so each player is able to guard their man. And in their mind, help is bonus. Your teammate’s there, but in your mind, there’s no help there. When you constantly rely on help, it’s easy to open up the gate and allow guys to go on through. So our defense is the one-on-one part, and the weak-side guys know it’s their job to help. Because anytime a guy dribbles down the lane, you’re in trouble.

    CD: Do you run a lot of motion on offense?
    CM: We probably run 60, 70 percent motion, then we probably have about 15 to 20 core set plays that we run to get our best players the shots; you have a guy that’s rolling, you get him the ball in certain situations. The good thing about a motion offense is it’s hard to predict where a guy’s making his move. Then you add constant screening to that. But the tough thing about a motion is that everybody can touch the ball, and your best player might not see it two or three times down the court because of how the motion is played. So you have to have plays so your best player can get the ball.

    CD: You also like to get out in transition.
    CM: Yes, we like to run, but the key is run to score. Not just run to get a shot. There’s a difference. It’s not every man for himself. We want to run and score the ball, but it’s all about taking high-quality shots.

    CD: Talk about high-quality shots in the half-court.
    CM: If a hand is in your face, it’s probably not a good shot. That’s also one of the things we teach in practice. Certain guys can take tough shots and make tough shots. But that is proven over time in practice. You don’t all of a sudden go into a game and say I’m going to experiment with this new shot.

    CD: What’s your recruiting philosophy?
    CM: You try to keep local players at home, but the one thing about Tennessee, it’s a well-known, well-respected university. So we can go different places and recruit. But we’re not just going somewhere like to New York to say we got a guy from New York or a guy from California just because he’s from California. We want the best players available. But you also want guys whose families can drive and come see them play. Obviously Atlanta is huge. Memphis. Places like that.



     
     

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    Chris Dortch Bio

    Chris Dortch estimates he’s covered close to 1,500 college basketball games since he was sports editor of his college student newspaper back in the late ’70s. “And it never gets old,” he says. “I always get pumped up to watch college hoops.”

    Dortch came to love basketball growing up in the basketball crazy state of Illinois, watching Missouri Valley Conference and Big Ten games every Saturday and pouring over the sports section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think I learned how to read a box score before I learned how to read,” he says.

    In college, first at George Mason and later at East Tennessee State, he came under the influence of two coaches that gave him a behind-the-scenes look at basketball from a coaching perspective. “After that I was hooked,” he says. “I knew I wanted to cover college basketball for a living.”

    And so he did, focusing on the Southeastern Conference at four newspapers and then for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the famed “bible” of college basketball which Dortch began editing in 1996.

    In a 30-year career, Dortch has written for numerous publications and websites, served as a college basketball correspondent for Sports Illustrated, appeared on more than 1,000 radio shows and written five books, including String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball.

    Dortch has provided commentary for CSS, Fox Sports South, NBA TV and the Big Ten Network and also taught sports writing at East Tennessee State and Tennessee-Chattanooga, where his students call him “Professor D.”