'I think he's a great fit'

Just six days passed between the firing of head coach Bruce Pearl on Monday, March 21 and the hiring of successor Cuonzo Martin on Sunday, March 27.

Some Tennessee basketball fans believe athletics director Mike Hamilton rushed the process but Tennessee's players seem relieved. They're ready to turn the page and start a new chapter.

"It's good," rising junior post Kenny Hall said. "I'm glad we now know who our coach is and we've got a chance to establish a good relationship with him throughout the summer and get ready for the season."

Rising senior Scotty Hopson, who is deciding whether to jump to the NBA or return for his final year at Tennessee, is pleased to have a coach in place, as well.

"It's great," he said. "We're definitely saddened about Coach Pearl and his loss but it's a new face and a new opportunity. Guys are really looking forward to a new start and looking forward to the challenge."

Martin, 39, played college ball at Purdue, then spent four years in the NBA. He assisted for eight years at his alma mater before taking the reins at Missouri State three years ago.

Martin flew in to Knoxville and made a point to meet with the Vols at 11:30 Sunday night. That impressed several players.

"He was ready to put us first and get to know us a little bit," Hall said. "He'd been traveling, and I could tell he was tired. He didn't have to do that but the fact that he did meant a lot to me."

The late-night meeting meant a lot to rising senior Cameron Tatum, as well. He clearly is sold on Cuonzo Martin.

"He's a great person, much like Coach Pearl," Tatum said. "He's a player's coach. He gets a lot out of his players because of his intensity and the way he communicates with his players. He has a different way than Coach Pearl but I think he can communicate just as easy. I think he's a great fit."

Hopson likes Martin's earnest manner.

"He's definitely a straight-forward guy, a guy that's going to keep it real," Hopson said. "He's going to motivate me to get better. He's been in the position I'm trying to be in, as far as being an NBA player, and he knows the process of getting there. There's a lot I can learn from him."

Martin takes over a team that is coming off a bizarre 2010-11 season that saw Pearl docked $1.5 million in pay and suspended for the first eight SEC games before the Vols even played their opener. Still, the team started 7-0 and ascended to No. 7 in the national rankings. The wheels came off at this point, however, and the Vols lost 15 of their final 27 games to finish 19-15. The final blow was a 75-45 humiliation at the hands of Michigan in their NCAA Tournament opener.

"It was almost like it wasn't real," Tatum recalled. "There was a lot of elements we was getting hit with - things inside the program, things outside the program. I think this is a fresh start for us as a team, and I think everybody will thrive off of it."

Although the Vols were uncommonly close to Pearl, it appears that they're ready to rally around their new coach.

"Whatever he brings to the table we've just got to be ready to accept it, go out there and play for him," Tatum said. "At the end of the day, what we want to do is win. That's what the fans deserve - a winning team - and I think they've got a winner in the coach."

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