No cuffs for Cuonzo

Selling a basketball program that's facing a possible postseason ban is kind of like selling a house that has flood damage. It isn't an insurmountable obstacle but it's pretty daunting.

Tennessee saw that obstacle obliterated Wednesday, when the NCAA announced that recruiting violations committed under Bruce Pearl would not cost the Big Orange a shot at future NCAA Tournaments or any scholarships.

First-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, making his first public appearance since returning from the World University Games in China, admitted Friday that the specter of a post-season ban had been handcuffing his recruiting efforts and weighing heavily on his mind.

"I was more or less relieved to get that information but also (intent on) moving forward," he said. "As a staff, we always expected a worst-case scenario, so when it didn't happen, we still had work to do. It didn't stop what we were trying to do as a program."

Echoing earlier comments, Martin noted that a post-season ban would've been "the biggest hurdle if it happened. I just think it's tough to fight that, even if it's one year and you're telling the guy in the 2012 class it doesn't affect him. Post-season is just a hard battle to overcome, so we were grateful for not getting that post-season ban."

Oddly enough, Martin said the possible ban was a hotter topic among moms and dads than the prospects themselves.

"It was not so much from the prospects as the parents, the AAU coaches and the high school coaches," the Vol head man said. "At one point we just told them 'We don't know.' I didn't want to give them an exact answer because I didn't know.'"

Eventually, Martin said he and his aides modified their response to "We don't think it's post-season" in terms of possible sanctions.

Associate head coach Tracy Webster conceded that Wednesday's announcement lifted a weight off all of the coaches' shoulders.

"It's great. I think our whole staff is excited that it's over with," he said. "Now it's time to move on."

Webster noted that the staff never discussed potential sanctions in front of the players, who he said "did a great job of focusing on what they needed to focus in on."

Senior guard Cameron Tatum, the team's most experienced player, was typically low-key when asked about the NCAA's verdict.

"I really didn't have much of a reaction," he said. "One thing Coach Pearl always said was to only worry about the things you can control, and that part of the situation was nothing we had any control over."

Now that a post-season ban is no longer an option, Tatum thinks prospects will be giving Tennessee a closer look.

"The NCAA Tournament is every kid's dream," he said. "A lot of kids watch games throughout the season but the most-watched thing in college is the basketball tournament. Guys want to be a part of that - it's an exciting experience - so not being able to go would've hurt recruiting a little bit."

Senior forward Renaldo Woolridge admitted that a post-season ban would be a big deal to him if he were a prospective Vol recruit.

"Definitely," he said. "It (NCAA Tournament) is every player's dream. Now you can sell the fact that you'll be playing in the post-season if you have a good enough record."

Sophomore point guard Trae Golden noted that a post-season ban would've hurt morale, as well as recruiting.

"That definitely concerned me," he said. "When you come to college you want to win a national championship, so that (NCAA Tournament) is something you look forward to every year. It was definitely a concern."

Golden believes Martin's recruiting will gain momentum now that prospects know the Vols have a shot at March Madness.

"It will definitely be easier for him to recruit," he said. "Knoxville's a great place. Tennessee's a great school. All recruits are going to be happy to be recruited by us."


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