Vols like Cuonzo's calm

Cuonzo Martin would be a great poker player, mostly because he has no "tells."

The first-year Tennessee basketball coach's demeanor didn't change when his team missed its first six field-goal tries and its first four foul shots in Thursday's exhibition opener versus Div. II Carson-Newman.

It didn't change when the Vols surged ahead 24-20, thanks to 12 consecutive UT points by Jordan McRae. It didn't change when the Big Orange fell behind 30-28. It didn't change when the Vols scored the final 11 points to take a 39-30 halftime lead and it didn't change when another 11-0 spurt produced a 69-47 second-half lead en route to a 73-52 win.

After six years of volatile Bruce Pearl, Martin's low-key sideline persona surely seemed a bit strange to Tennessee's fans. It seemed a bit comforting to Tennessee's players.

"I wouldn't expect him to be as animated (as Pearl) on the sidelines," junior forward Jeronne Maymon said with a soft grin. "I saw him crack some smiles but I expect him to be in coach mode."

Even when the Vols' first few possessions suggested they might not score in the game's first half, Martin never lost his cool.

"He reacted like he did any other possession throughout the whole game," Maymon recalled. "I didn't see any change in his demeanor. He was still positive, still motivated, still telling us to get to our spots, still coaching and still being a motivator. He was himself. He was still in our ear, still trying to get us to lock down on defense and maintain."

Several Vols thought the head man's poise helped them keep theirs during that disjointed 16-minute stretch at the start of Thursday's game.

"Definitely," sophomore point guard Trae Golden noted. "He was relaxed. When we see that he's calm and has confidence in us it helps us out a lot. We knew we were going to get it going sooner or later, so it was something that would come in time."

Appearances to the contrary, Cuonzo Martin is not robot that operates on a micro-chip with no emotion built into the program. He admits feeling some nerves heading into the exhibition opener.

"I was excited about the opportunity to get out on the floor," he recalled. "I was anxious to see our guys play because there's so many unknowns with our guys. I thought they did a good job stepping to the plate. That first game is always tough."

The first game had to be especially tough for a guy who is following a coach as wildly popular as Pearl and is saddled with the most depleted roster Tennessee has fielded in two decades. No wonder Martin's stomach is churning a bit as he prepares to face another Div. II opponent, LMU, tonight at 7 in exhibition No. 2.

"As a coach, I always have butterflies from a preparation standpoint," he conceded. "I was the same way as a player. I wasn't afraid of the competition; you just want to be clicking on all cylinders and you never feel like you're prepared on the level you need to be as a coach. There's always something to pop up.

"For me as a coach that'll never change, regardless of the opponent."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories