Play hard or watch

When one Tennessee basketball player got winded during a recent practice, head coach Cuonzo Martin mercifully suggested that he sit down and watch the rest of the workout.

OK, maybe it didn't happen exactly like that. Actually, when the player got winded, Martin sternly ordered him to sit down and watch the rest of the workout. It wasn't a reprieve; it was a punishment.

Tennessee's players say the new head man will not tolerate anything less than all-out hustle ... even if a player is all out of energy.

"The workouts are tough — very, very tough," senior wing Cameron Tatum said this week. "Coach Martin is trying to push us through fatigue. If you push through fatigue now it becomes second nature to you, so imagine what you can do when you're fresh."

Bruce Pearl conducted rigorous practices during his six-year run as head man but the Vols say Martin's workouts are even more taxing. The motto imprinted on their practice shorts — PLAY HARD — says it all.

"The difference is the intensity on the court every day," Tatum said. "There's no let-up. If you let up or if you don't pay attention to detail, you're going to be kicked off."

Not kicked off the team ... just kicked off the practice floor.

"It's happened one time," Tatum said. "It was at the end of a workout, and the kid was very, very tired."

The Vol senior paused thoughtfully, laughed, then added: "It won't happen again, I guarantee you that. The kid has been doing an excellent job ever since. He's been working out, working hard and doing an excellent job for us."

Martin's methods may seem harsh to some but they're almost soft compared to former Vol head man Kevin O'Neill, who sometimes ordered players to leave the arena for displeasing him during practice. Martin stops short of making a player leave the gym.

"No, no, no," Tatum said. "Basically, all he did was make him (player) sit and watch the rest of the guys work out, saying: 'This is what you need to be doing. You need to fight through fatigue.'"

The Big Orange didn't fight through much of anything in 2010-11. Lacking toughness and discipline, the team regularly underachieved and lost by 30 points to Michigan in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament. It appears that the Vols will be much tougher and more disciplined under Cuonzo Martin.

"The kind of coach he is, you don't have a choice," sophomore wing Jordan McRae said. "Either you do what you're told or you're going to be on your way."

A low-key guy most of the time, Martin has shown the players that he can be animated — even volatile — if the need arises.

"It makes us all intense when he's jumping around , yelling and things like that," McRae said. "He keeps everybody's energy up and keeps everybody's spirits high."

In addition to peak effort, Martin demands attentiveness from his players. When he speaks, the Vols listen ... or else.

"At times he'll blow the whistle and stop everything," McRae said. "He'll tell you to do something once. If you don't do it after that there's a consequence — running or sometimes he'll even tell you to leave.

"You're going to do what you're told in his system."


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