Low expectations

Now that Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson have picked the NBA Draft over their remaining collegiate eligibility, most observers are projecting a major downturn in Tennessee's basketball fortunes.

"Nobody thinks we'll be successful," new head man Cuonzo Martin said recently. "With Scotty and Tobias leaving, everybody's counting us out."

The coach understands the rationale but isn't buying it. He knows that programs who lose a star player or two sometimes become better instead of worse. He knows this because he played for such a program.

"When Glenn Robinson left after our junior year, nobody thought Purdue could win it (Big Ten title) again," Martin recalled. "But we won it again and had a better record."

Overcoming the loss of a talent like Glenn Robinson was not easy for Purdue. Likewise, overcoming the loss of Harris and Hopson will not be easy for Tennessee. But it can be done.

"It's how you deal with it as a competitive player," Martin said. "Hopefully, our guys will respond in the right way."

In fact, the coach already believes that is happening. Vol veterans seem insulted that most observers see Tennessee lagging far behind SEC East rivals Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt - all of whom appear loaded for 2011-12.

"When you want to be the best you've got to go against the best," Martin said. "For these guys to walk around with a chip on their shoulders is the right way."

Like his players, Martin is motivated by those who say his program will not be competitive in 2011-12. The underdog role suits him just fine.

"As a competitor," he said, "that's the same way I approached the game."

Tennessee would've been projected as an SEC title contender if Harris and Hopson had stuck around. Losing both of them has cost the Vols a lot of firepower but Martin knew they were longshots to return when he was hired.

"Even before I took the job I knew the (six) seniors were leaving and there was a chance that Scotty and Tobias had one foot out the door," he said. "But it was the opportunity to be here (that mattered most). I didn't take this job as a pit stop. I took it as a lifetime."

Although Tennessee is facing some penalties stemming from NCAA recruiting violations committed under predecessor Bruce Pearl, Martin believes the program will continue to attract quality players.

"Tennessee is a great school with a lot of great resources," he said. "One of the things we sell at Tennessee is that we're successful in a lot of sports. Tennessee is successful across the board, and not many programs in the country can say that."

Based on his initial contacts with some key prospects for the 2012 recruiting class, Martin is encouraged about the program's future.

"The reception has been great," he said. "It's just a matter of us reeling in the right ones. The biggest key right now with the recruits is what happens with the NCAA. Whatever happens - as long as there's no post-season ban - everything else you can deal with."

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