Immediate impact

Immediate impact

If Tennessee's five spring basketball signees fail to make major contributions in 2011-12, it won't be because they couldn't grasp the system. Cuonzo Martin says his system couldn't be simpler.

"The only system is playing hard," the Vols' new head coach said. "If you have the ability to play hard, compete at a high level and want to be a team player, the adjustment won't be difficult."

Martin faced a steep learning curve in his first year as a player at Purdue because he was switching to small forward after playing power forward in high school. None of Tennessee's five 2011 signees faces that type of transition.

"These guys are in the positions they're built for," Martin said. "We don't have to make Wes Washpun learn how to be a point guard. He's already a point guard, so it's a matter of how strong he gets and the maturity of the young man into the college ranks.

"For our system, it's just a matter of playing hard. We'll put 'em in position to be successful."

The fact none of Tennessee's spring signees carries a 4-star or 5-star rating is a concern to some fans. Martin, however, couldn't care less.

"I never heard so much talk in recruiting about 2-stars, 3-stars, 4-stars and whatever all that means," he said. "One of the best players that ever played was Chris Lofton. What star was he? He's a ball player, so I don't know what all of that star stuff means.

"It comes down to being a ball player, so I'm excited about these guys."

Martin encountered some major obstacles during the spring signing period. First, he was selling a program facing likely NCAA sanctions stemming from violations committed under predecessor Bruce Pearl. Secondly, he was hampered by not knowing if underclassmen Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson would opt for the NBA Draft or return for the 2011-12 Vol season. Third, he was sorting through the diminished talent pool that is available in the spring.

In spite of these negatives, Martin believes he and his assistants signed a class that will represent Tennessee well.

"I feel good about it," he said. "I feel good about the substance of these guys, the work ethic. We feel good about them and about their makeup as individuals off the court, as well."

Asked if there is one common trait he sees in all of Tennessee's spring signees, Martin replied: "The athleticism and energy. All of those guys have a passion to play hard and compete at a high level. And they like to play defense."

Tennessee returns two scholarship seniors (Cameron Tatum, Renaldo Woolridge) and three juniors (Kenny Hall, Skylar McBee, Jeronne Maymon) but the veterans will have no advantage in the chase for starting spots when preseason drills begin in the fall.

"Whoever does the best gets it," Martin said. "It's not a situation where, 'Well, I was a junior last year, so I'll be a starter this year.' That's not going to be the case. If those freshmen coming in get it, they'll start."

What follows are Martin's comments on his five spring signees:

Wes Washpun: "He's a quick point guard, a really good athlete with a 40-plus-inch vertical jump. It's legit. I was at a game when he was a senior and he dunked. He's a good passer. He always has a smile on his face, has a love for the game and will continue to get better. I like his whole makeup as a person."

Josh Richardson: "I'm not saying he's this guy but he's in the mold of a Scottie Pippen, a guy who can play the 1, 2 and 3 positions - a long athlete who can really defend. He can pass the ball. He plays hard, plays with energy, competes at a high level. He's a very intelligent young man who really knows how to play the game. We thought we had a shot to get him when I was at Missouri State but we knew it would be extremely tough because he had Georgia Tech and some other schools recruiting him. For some strange reason, when I took this job it became an easy sell. He called me up."

Quinton Chievous: "He's a very talented player. Like his dad (former NBA player Derrick Chievous), he's a fierce competitor. He's one of those guys that can play multiple positions. He's 6-5 and about 200 pounds right now but he could get up to 230 and do a lot of different things for our program. He's a fun guy to be around."

Dwight Miller: "He has a good frame on him, 6-8 and 245. He's an inside-outside guy but more of an inside or mid-range guy. We think he'll really help us right away as an inside presence. He understands what it takes to compete on this level (having spent a year at Pitt and one at junior college)."

Yemi Makanjuola: "He's 6-9 and 245 with a great frame. He's a strong kid. Right now he loves to play defense, rebound and block shots. He's more ready than most guys that come from Nigeria straight out of high school. His skills are more ready for this level. He'll take his lumps as far as his ability on offense, which isn't mature, but he's better than a lot of people think when you watch him play. He can make shots and he competes. He's one of those guys that takes elbows to the face and just keeps coming. He's a tough competitor."

Clearly, Martin is ready to go to war with the newcomers he and his staff assembled in the past few weeks.

"I like all of those guys," the coach said. "They play hard, they want to defend and they want to be here. I think that's very important."

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