Cuonzo's clones

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Someday soon Tennessee's basketball lineup may consist of five guys who stand between 6-feet-5 and 6-feet-8 and weigh between 200 and 230 pounds. Fans could dub them Cuonzo's Clones.

Except for 6-foot-1 point guard Wes Washpun, every player Cuonzo Martin has signed since taking the Vol reins 14 months ago is between 6-feet-5 and 6-feet-8. Except for 270-pound post Jarnell Stokes, every signee is somewhat lanky.

Now that Washpun has transferred, every Martin signee on the current roster except Stokes stands between 6-feet-5 and 6-feet-9 and weighs between 190 and 240 pounds.

Clearly, Cuonzo likes 'em long and lean. The obvious question: Why?

"We like our point guards to be quick, tough, defensive-minded guys that can really put pressure on the ball defensively," he said recently. "Outside of that, we want athletic guys with length that can do multiple things on the perimeter."

Essentially, the head man is seeking guys who fit the Cuonzo Martin mold. As a player at Purdue, his 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame enabled him to defend everybody from point guards to power forwards.

"I like to have a guy on the perimeter that can play three or four positions," Martin conceded. "When you're switching on ball screens and playing different schemes, he's a guy who can do a lot of different things. When you're able to do that I think you have a chance to be very successful as a team."

Coach Cuonzo Martin sees the importance of signing players from within the Volunteer State's borders.
(Danny Parker/
Martin finally has a chance to recruit on somewhat equal footing with his SEC rivals. Inheriting a depleted Vol roster last March, he had no choice but to bring in some warm bodies from a weak pool of unsigned talent. Because he still hadn't coached his first game at Tennessee, prospects weren't exactly lining up to sign with him last November, either.

Still, Martin accomplished a recruiting breakthrough last January by landing Stokes, a 5-star Memphis product who enrolled at mid-term after sitting out his senior season of high school ball.

Martin then proved himself by guiding a Vol squad pegged 11th in SEC preseason polls to a 10-6 record and second-place finish. Because this spring's pool of unsigned talent was just as weak as last year's, however, his only signee was relatively unheralded Armani Moore.

Now that Martin has shown he can win at Tennessee, high-profile prospects are more open to his recruiting pitch.

"They've been great," he said, "but you've still got to reel them in. It's a tremendous effort ... being consistent, staying after it until you get the job done. It never stops until you get them to sign the National Letter of Intent."

That's true, of course, but the feedback Martin is getting from 2013 and 2014 prospects is much more positive now that he has had a full season on The Hill to prove himself.

"The best feedback is when they sign the National Letter of Intent," he said with a grin. "That's the best and most important feedback. Right now we're just grinding, establishing relationships. You hone in on 10 or 15 guys you really like, then you get out there and see a lot of other guys you like ... that you kind of had at bay but you like to keep relationships with them."

The state of Tennessee produced a 5-star prospect last season in Alex Poythress, a Clarksville native who signed with national champ Kentucky. The Volunteer State projects to have up to one-half dozen elite prospects in the season ahead. Martin hopes to land several of them.

"We like to get guys in-state because they understand what it means to be part of the University of Tennessee," he said. "But you also have to do your job and assess everything out there, all across the country."

Tennessee's recruiting emphasis at present is on post prospects. That position is about to be wiped out, since Kenny Hall, Jeronne Maymon and Dwight Miller will be seniors this season, and Stokes is almost certain to opt for the NBA following his sophomore year.

"That's very important," Martin agreed. "You're talking about losing some seniors, some quality guys, so that's an area you really have to address. But you also want to get the best players available. You want to get big guys but they have to be good big guys. You don't take 'em just to be taking 'em, so we have to identify those needs."

Dwight Miller

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