Hoo boy, have we got some Cuonzo Martin reading material for you. Settle in.
The 45-year-old Martin has served the game of basketball for more than two decades, beginning with a standout four-year playing career at Purdue University. He has played and coached alongside some of the game's most highly-regarded mentors, including Hall of Fame Coach Gene Keady. Martin is a member of a distinguished group of successful college basketball coaches to serve under Keady, along with Matt Painter (Purdue), Bruce Weber (Illinois and Kansas State), Steve Lavin (UCLA and St. John's) and Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt and Pitt).
Martin also has experience as a coach with USA Basketball, serving on the USA Junior National Team staff at the 2011 FISU World University games in Shenzhen, China.
As a student-athlete, Martin was a 1995 First-Team All-Big Ten selection at Purdue when he averaged 18.4 ppg and sank 91 three-pointers. He graduated as one of the program's all-time leaders in three-pointers (179) and among the Boilermakers' career scoring leaders (1,666). Playing under Keady and alongside All-American Glenn Robinson, Martin led Purdue to a pair of Big Ten titles and to a 90-37 four-year record. The Boilermakers went to the postseason each season with Martin, reaching the Elite Eight of the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
From The Trib:
“He was the best leader I ever had,” said Keady, who coached 27 seasons at Purdue and Western Kentucky. “He’d be upset with certain players and he’d run by the bench and say, ‘Get him out of here, Coach, he’s not helping us.’ Then he’d go and get the kid and usually tell him, ‘Here’s what we gotta have to win.’ He didn’t do it in a derogatory way. He was just a good leader.”
Martin played in the NBA from 1995-97 and in Europe from 1997-98, but non-Hodgkin lymphoma ended his playing career. A year of treatment put the cancer in remission, and Martin returned to the game as an assistant coach under Keady at Purdue. He spent seven seasons there before Missouri State hired him to lead its program in 2008.
From The Missourian:
In his three seasons at Tennessee, Martin went 63-41 and won the third most conference games as a head coach (the two coaches ahead of him were Kentucky's John Calipari and Florida's Billy Donovan). After making the NIT in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Tennessee advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in its third season under Martin.
Despite success in his third season at Tennessee, fans and boosters alike began to sour on Martin. He replaced beloved Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl, who was fired in 2011 after NCAA violations but was eligible to be rehired in 2014. The fact that Pearl was still an icon for Vols fans coupled with the fact that Martin was more reserved than Pearl led to an online petition of 40,000 fans calling for Martin’s firing. The petition and other criticism came despite Tennessee finishing the SEC regular season with five straight wins and reaching the Sweet 16.
Martin is from East St. Louis and maintains close relationships throughout the state of Missouri’s basketball scene. He is a father, husband and former professional player. He grew up in a neighborhood where every kid had seen a stranger’s dead body by freshman year.
He blew out a knee in high school so bad doctors weren’t sure he’d walk again, and went through a cancer that another doctor said might kill him before his 30th birthday. Whatever problems await him at Mizzou won’t be the worst he’s seen.
The adults in the neighborhood used to say he carried himself with a confidence like he’d seen it all before. He took a milk crate and hung it on a tree behind his building, spending hours shooting at the makeshift basketball goal.
He got pretty good — and tall, too — so when a neighborhood father figure teased him about sitting on the bench in high school, Cuonzo snapped back, I’m not sitting on anybody’s bench.
“And he was right,” says Norman Stevens, still laughing at the memory. “He started four years.”
His Sweet 16 appearance was a fluke. This one is my favorite. It plays out like this: The best Martin can do is land a team on the NCAA tournament bubble, a critic says. To which a sensible response is, well, his Sweet 16 appearance at Tennessee in 2014 suggests otherwise. Then, as if it never happened, the critic argues that doesn't count. Why? Because that run started at the First Four in Dayton, or because the opponents that team faced were over-seeded and overrated, or because that team should have never been on the bubble in the first place. The critic will spend a lot of time reminding you how the tournament winning streak included a blowout victory against a pretty lame UMass team. The critic will fail to mention other facts: The Iowa team Tennessee beat in the First Four had knocked off two top-10 opponents that season. The Mercer team Tennessee beat had just dismissed No. 3 seed Duke. And if it wasn't for a very questionable charge call in that Sweet 16 game against No. 2 seed Michigan, the Vols very well could have been in the Elite Eight for just the second time in school history. Martin's 2014 team can be criticized for underachieving early that season, but it played its best when it mattered most. You would think a team would be remembered for where it wound up, not where it started, but that would mean admitting Martin is a Sweet-16 caliber coach, not a bubble dweller who got lucky.
There might be more legitimate criticisms for Martin based on his relationship with assistant Yann Hufnagel, who was fired from Cal last April for sexual harassment. A university investigation cleared Martin of any wrongdoing, though.
The recruiting angle
The argument exists that Missouri's move to the SEC hindered its ability to achieve on-court success in basketball. The SEC will always be a football-first conference but the conference switch didn't seem to hurt the Tigers' football program, which won back-to-back division titles in 2013 and 2014. Beyond that, the SEC is wide-open in basketball outside of Kentucky and maybe Florida. Martin and the Tigers have a chance to quickly move up the league totem poll.
If Missouri was still in the Big 12, how quickly could the program get to the upper-half of the league? Even the most wide-eyed optimist would agree that such a climb would take several seasons. In the SEC, Missouri could make giant strides in short order thanks to the lack of consistent contenders within the conference.
From the Post-Dispatch:
Illini fans might need to worry about whether signee Jeremiah Tilmon will remain in the fold now that Martin is at Missouri. Both Tilmon — a five-star recruit according to Rivals.com and the consensus top player in the state — and Martin are from East St. Louis.
From the Post-Dispatch again (which did a hell of a job of hitting about 38 different angles in its coverage):
Washington has fired longtime coach Lorenzo Romar. That means prized recruit Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country for the 2017 class, will be allowed to ask out of his national letter of intent.
Michael Porter Sr., the player’s father, has been an assistant coach at Washington under Romar. A source close to the situation told the Post-Dispatch that Martin will likely hire Porter Sr. as an assistant coach at Mizzou and bring Porter Jr. along with him back to Columbia. The Porters lived in Columbia from 2010-2016 when Porter Sr. worked on the Mizzou women’s basketball staff under coach Robin Pingeton, his sister-in-law. Porter Sr. was unavailable for comment.
By the way, I found this series of videos on YouTube, in which Martin walks through a lot of his coaching philosophy. It’s boilerplate stuff as far as coaching goes, but it’s fun to watch, I think.
Oh yeah, and Sam did a Facebook Live session about the new hire last night. Check it out:
Meanwhile, I was in studio with George and Jay for the second hour of The Closers yesterday to talk about the NCAA Tournament ... until other topics kinda took over. The listener call-ins are worth a listen.
- Championships alert: Session 1 of the NCAA Wrestling Championships begins today at 11 am CT in St. Louis, the scene of 2015’s disappointment. J’den Cox, of course, is going for his third national title. You can find the brackets here, and you can follow along with the action at WatchESPN.
- Championships alert: Mizzou’s trek in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament begins tomorrow against USF at 4:15 pm CT on ESPN2.
- Championships alert: Mizzou Swimming & Diving began the NCAA Championships with a school record time in the 800 free relay. Not a bad way to start.
- THE STREAK LIVES! SOMEHOW! Mizzou Baseball tried really hard to end its winning streak yesterday evening against Chicago State, committing seven errors and stranding approximately 300 runners on base (give or take). These are the dumb baseball games that everybody loses. Only ... the Tigers didn’t. Chicago State sent the game to extra innings and then hit a two-run home run in the 11th, but the Tigers responded by tying the game in the 11th and winning it, 7-6, in the 13th. It’s their fifth walk-off of the year and the best start in school history. You, uh, don’t want to spend all your good karma too early, but damn, this is a fun run. We’ll see if they can make it 17 straight when they head to Tuscaloosa for a three-game series starting Friday.
- Mizzou Softball really, really needed to sweep a doubleheader with Iowa yesterday. The Tigers did so, moving to 13-10 on the season with wins of 9-0 and 2-0.