Quick with a quip

Posted May 27, 2011

Ultimately, he'll be judged on how he matches up with Bruce Pearl as a strategist. For now, though, Cuonzo Martin is gaining on Pearl as a humorist.

Tennessee's new basketball coach may not be as flamboyant as his high-profile predecessor but Martin is developing a really nice flair for entertaining an audience. He displayed it several times on the recent Big Orange Caravan and showed it again during today's meeting of the Big Orange Tipoff Club.

When asked how he can adjust to his new players while allowed no contact with them in the coming months, Martin deadpanned, "I think it's more about the players adjusting to you."

Several seconds passed as the underlying message of that remark sank in, then a few chuckles swelled into full-blown laughter and a smattering of applause.

Grinning broadly, Martin added: "I don't want to sound like I'm some prison warden or something but there's a right and a wrong way to do things."

Whereas Pearl has a zany personality and a zany sense of humor, his successor has a low-key personality and a low-key sense of humor. Still, Martin exhibits the delivery and timing to crack up a crowd on occasion.

For instance:

While discussing Vol assistant coach Jon Harris, Martin quipped: "He played at Marquette with (high-scoring NBA superstar) Dwyane Wade, so he did a lot of rebounding instead of shooting."

Regarding the quandary of trying to convince Scotty Hopson to return for his senior year while being honest with him about his NBA Draft prospects, Martin said: "It's always tough because you want to give these guys honest information but you also understand that a part of their success is about ego, so it's the way you go about saying what you're saying without really saying it."

Recalling a meeting with freshman Tobias Harris to discuss his jump to the NBA, Martin noted: "He said, 'Coach, I'm ninety percent sure I'm going to leave.' I said, 'Go ahead and say you're 100 percent.' That was his way of getting out of my office."

After praising wife Roberta, who he began dating while both were students at Purdue, he added: "I met her in college, and she actually got up the nerve to tell me she didn't know me when we met. I was like, 'You didn't see those games on TV?'"

When asked if Tennessee's new recruits will be participating in the offensive-minded Rocky Top Summer League, Martin replied: "Yes, they'll be playing in the Rocky Top League this summer ... hopefully trying to play a little defense." When the ensuing laughter died down, he added: "But I know that's not happening."

Asked if he's aware how much Tennessee fans hate arch-rivals Kentucky and Vanderbilt, Martin nodded and replied: "That was already understood. And I hate ALL opponents."

Regarding a recent meeting with legendary Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt, whose son is a Vol walk-on, Martin noted: "When I got the job, she came to the office and said, 'Coach, I just wanted to sit down and talk to you.' Then she leaned over and whispered in my ear: 'Make sure you play Tyler.'"

As happened with his stops on the Caravan, the new coach got a warm reception from Tennessee fans. The key question is: Can he keep them as engaged and entertained from November through March as he has in April and May?

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