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Cuonzo Martin Press Luncheon 3/10



March 10, 2014

(Opening Statement)
Coming off our last game, I thought our guys did a great job as a team. Really the last three and a half games, the guys are playing really well on both ends of the floor, sharing the basketball. Our bigs are doing a great job rebounding. The guards are doing a great job at penetration, with our dribble penetration, dishing the basketball or attacking off the dribble. It was just fun to watch on both ends of the floor. I think they're taking pride in defending as a team, not just one or two guys. The thing we've talked about all the time as a staff is that defense is really fun when you do it at a high level because you can see the results behind it when you keep teams from scoring consistently, but (it was) just a great team effort. I thought Jeronne (Maymon) down the stretch during these last four or five games has really defended and rebounded and the thing he's done a great job of--and he's done a great job in practice--(is) keeping ball alive, tipping rebounds if he can't get his hands on them, which is just a great job. He might not get the rebound, but just a tremendous job of keeping the ball alive. Jarnell (Stokes), again (playing) at a high level. I think his confidence has changed, his approach has changed from the standpoint where he can dominant games. He feels that when he demands the ball and is making plays and Jordan McRae, even though he hadn't scored it as much the last three games, his floor game has gotten a lot better and the thing we talk about all the time is that it's never too late to get better. I think even with his defense, he's gotten better. We talked about the Auburn game and the Mizzou game and in those two games, you're talking about two teams that go out and play with tremendous scorers on the perimeter. I thought our guards did a great job of going out there and accepting those challenges and I think Jeronne and Jarnell collectively are doing a great job of defending and protecting the lane with their ball screen defense, really moving their feet and it's fun to watch them as a team.

 

 

(On how much he attributes the big men to stopping penetration)
I think it starts with the guards, but those bigs have to move their feet and just be big. Again, with the new rule--and I do think the game is being played a little more physical down the stretch of the season, which is great---you have a tendency to be a little hesitant on defense because you don't want to get a foul on you. I think those guys are doing a great job at moving their feet, being big and being physical, but it's also the trust factor as a guard when you fall behind a certain guy, you want your big to be there. As a big, when you make a rotation, there has to be somebody behind you to protect and I think the trust level is going up with our guys on the floor.

(On whether Josh Richardson has `defensive DNA')
Josh is just a basketball guy, whatever it takes to win games. I do think he has another level to him offensively and I will say in the past---I think since the Mississippi State game---he's defending at an elite level and I thought he always was a good defender. I thought he was our defensive stopper, but I think now he's on pace to be an elite defender. When you can shut down those type of scorers, it's not easy and again with the new rule. I got to give credit where it's due because you got to be careful, you can't hand check as much. When you're able to guard guys at that level for so many minutes, it's fun to watch and it's impressive.

(On the team's defense over the last couple games on Chris Denson and Jabari Brown)
Anytime you have a great defender, those guys are involved. When you take Denson (of Auburn) for example: he's a guy that does a great job of attacking off the dribble. You have to funnel him to a direction on all scouting reports. With that being said, those guys on the back side that are supposed to help, they have to be there, so I would say (they) did a great job of helping. When you talk about Brown (of Missouri), he's a guy that does a great job coming off of down-screens and catching and shooting. If you watch on film, every time there's a catch, Josh trailed those two guys before Josh got to him hovering around the ball, so you have to take a tough shot or pass. I think with great defenders, there has to be a tremendous amount of team help.

(On Josh stepping into role as defensive stopper)
Josh has good leadership qualities. He's one of those guys that guys like being around and hanging out with him, but I think what happens as a stopper and as a leader, there's a time and place for everything. Nothing negative, nothing bad, but your approach has to change. Scouting reports: locked in. Walk-through: locked in. You almost change your face somewhat. It's probably a hard thing for him to do, but he's really embraced it, he's done a good job, so now you see him in huddles with guys and they respond to it. (He) probably needs the reassurance from me as a coach that I can lead because he has it in him and I think he's doing a great job with it.

(On who Martin thinks is the SEC Player of the Year)
So, if I can't vote for one of my guys, then I would say Scottie Wilbekin (Florida) and the reason why I say that is because obviously his team has won games, but he does such a great job of leading his team, playing hard, competing on both ends of the floor, directs traffic offensively, makes the big shot when he needs to, makes the play off the dribble when he's asked to and he accepts the challenge. He'll guard Jordan McRae, he'll guard the other team's best guy. I'd say he's the best player in the league.

(On who it would be if he could vote for a Vol)
If I could vote for one of my guys, I'd vote for all of them. (Laughs)

(On if he senses a difference in how the team is handling being on the bubble for the third year in a row)
They obviously know they're good enough when you have the parts to be successful. Now it's just a matter of doing it. We've been here before, it's just a matter of doing a job when you have the parts to do it. As long as we continue to play the way we're playing, I wouldn't mind playing anybody, it doesn't matter who we play.

(On Antonio Barton's hot shooting percentages)
You're talking about a guy that spends 45 minutes to an hour every morning at 10 a.m. coming off ball screens, reading the defenses--Ok, they cut you off right, you got to make decision. Now he's on the floor by himself with coach (Tracy) Webster and one of the student assistants, you got to read the defenses. Now he's coming off a pass, you got to cut here. Make a penetration move. Jump stop, now you've got to relocate. It takes a toll on you until you get used to it, but also I think it was the conditioning and his workouts and his will in those individual workouts because we looked at his numbers too, before he started shooting it well, and he wasn't making shots in the second half of the games. We had to raise his levels in his workouts where he's constantly moving in his workouts, not a lot of standing. Now you see in the second half, he is able to make plays, make decisions and get to the rim, but also his ball screen game has gotten better. We didn't get the production early coming off ball screens. Now, he's able to come off ball screens and make decision and make plays.

(On what they have to do to be in the NCAA Tournament for good)

"Most important is the one on Friday. Saturday presents itself, we get ready to go."

(On offensive rebounding)

"Well, I think obviously offensive rebounding; we have guys that we can throw inside to and make plays, they can also make decisions with the basketball. I think the thing that we can't do is sometimes easier said than done, we can't settle for a lot of 3-point shots because I would imagine teams would double our bigs so those shots would present themselves so you got to be ready to shoot the ball, but you still also have to be the double penetrator and make plays."

(On team coming together after the second Texas A&M game)

"Well, hopefully it's come together because we don't have a lot of time now, but again I just think those minor things need to be talked about and addressed as a team and sometimes I'm not previewed to the information which is fine, as long as they sort it out and understand in order for us to be successful, they obviously have to play together because the thing I talk about all the time and I've said over and over again, defend, rebound, and play hard because now you go into a venue you're not used to and your shots won't fall, what else do you bring to the table in order for the team to be successful."

(On the game on Friday against most likely Arkansas probably being a play-in game)

"I don't think it's fair because if you look at some of the other team's resumes, strength of schedules, teams they say that are locks to be in, it makes you wonder what some think the perception of the SEC because again if you look at other team's resumes, they think they have in. I don't think it's fair, but you can't control that and the best way to leave it in doubt is to win ball games."

(On Tennessee struggling in the SEC Tournament)

"Don't even address it. Neither one of these guys played 40 or 50 years ago. It is what it is. For us, its Friday do everything in your power, try to win that ball game. Saturday, keep moving, but I don't get caught up in all that. Hopefully they don't either."

(On the 18 assists against Missouri)

"Oh yeah, it is making the extra play. Again the same stuff we worked on in the beginning of the season, dribble penetration, pitch and find open man, whether you think the guy can make a shot or not, if he is open, hit him, if he has the same jersey, give him the ball, and that's what it comes to down to, but also our big guys. You got to go inside to those guys; they've done a great job against the double team. I think, Jarnell (Stokes) now seems like he embraces a double team so he can make plays and those guys are getting assists - really sharing the basketball."

(On Jarnell Stokes comment about having fun for the first time playing defense)
"Well I have been trying since he stepped on campus. I think more than anything it is the results behind what he is seeing. I think he has done a good job defending this season. Probably his best job since he has been in the program. I think he is getting lower defensively. He is moving and cutting off the baseline. He is doing a lot of those things that are high level better than he has done in the past. I think in Jarnell's case like most guys because as a big guy when you are constantly making moves, cutting the baselines, helping the ball screen and your guy is diving. You don't want your guy scoring the basket on you. Even if you help on the ball, your guy dives towards the basket and scores at the end of the day it says Jarnell's man had 15 points. Now it might have been only 7 scored while he was defending him but because of help and rotation things like that happen. He might be thinking he is afraid to help or doesn't want to help because he doesn't want his guy scoring. It is a case of you have to give it up to your team. Each guy has done a great job helping another guy."

(On the rotation of the guys on and off the bench)
"Unless something happens or a guy gets injured you know when you get into tournament play, guys get injured and bodies get fatigued. However I feel like we are solid right now with the rotation."

(On Derek Reese and Armani Moore's 3-point shooting against Missouri)
"It was good, but again, two guys that work extremely hard on their shot. Armani [Moore] is one of those guys that really wasn't shooting them in the beginning but he's really improved his shot. Derek came in as a guy that can shoot the ball, but I don't think he's shooting it as well as he's capable of shooting it. Armani, two guys that work hard at it. They spend a lot of time in the gym. They're roommates. They take pride in doing the other things- rebounding, defending, those sorts of things."

(On Josh Richardson's chance of making SEC All-Defense)
"I think that part is understood. It's just a matter of whether or not he'll win it. I think that should be a given."

(On evolution of team chemistry)
"Yes. Good question. I think so. They're probably one of the better teams I've been around off the court. I don't think the chemistry flowed like it needed to in the beginning. I don't think it's necessarily with this guy wants to shoot- when you have two new point guards coming into a program with experienced guys returning, not to say that it's anybody's fault, but they try to make the adjustment to this level, getting to know these guys who are set in their ways, so to speak in this is what I do. That part is not easy. Then you have Jeronne Maymon who was out and now he's back in the fold. Just trying to get a flow, get a chemistry. Your first game at Xavier, Antonio [Barton] probably didn't practice until 10 days before that. Darius [Thompson] started that game. You get Antonio back into the starting lineup. Jeronne [Maymon] trying to get the rust off with being out so long. Even though he had practiced, you're talking about games. It was different."

(On absence of Robert Hubbs, III)
"You're talking about a guy that can score the ball and can shoot it and a willing shooter. Anytime he is open, he's going to shoot it, which is good. You don't have that in the fold, that weapon so to speak. The guy is a pretty good athlete, so when you lose a guy like that, it's not easy. But again, you can't use that excuse. You have to make it work, whatever happens, but definitely a guy that you miss.

"I don't think he was at the level he is capable of being at.

"Doing well. I don't know exactly when he'll be back as far as on the court, but just doing individual stuff with Chad [Newman] the trainer and Nicodemus [Christopher]."

(On guarding Jabari Brown)
"I was definitely excited after the game that I was just able to stay on his tail and I think I got in his head a little bit just trying to bother him with the ball. I think when other guys were guarding him, when I wasn't out there, they did a great job too."

"I knew the whole time [he hadn't had a field goal]. Every other play I was looking up at the scoreboard trying to keep his number down."

(On playing against star players)
"I think we were playing a lot better help defense. I can think of a certain example at Auburn when KT Harrell was in the corner and I was guarding Chris Denson on the wing, he got past me but Jordan McRae took him and I took his man and I feel like that is just a testament of us just playing better on defense together as a team."

(On the Tennessee defensive improvements)
"I think we probably started showing flashes of what we can do against Alabama. I think it all came together against Vanderbilt. I am not really sure what the difference is I just remember coming out with a lot of intensity against Vandy and guys were just locked in. I feel like guys are staying focused in the games more."

(On the talk Coach Martin had with him)
"Everybody knows that I am a goofy guy, but he said that I wasn't approaching the game as seriously as I could be because I joke around in warm-ups. I took heed to it and started approaching practice and the game a lot more seriously and kept guys focused and since I have been doing that, results have been showing. That was good advice that he gave me. It was about the end of last month. I think it has made a big difference. I feel like I am more locked into what is going on now."

(On defense being in his DNA)
"I feel like since I have been in college it has been. Just knowing when I stepped on campus I wasn't a very good shooter or scorer, so I just knew that to get on the floor I could play defense and that has stuck with me. I am a way better defensive player now that in high school. I know that every guy we guard in college has potential to go off every night. There is a lot more intensity and focus on it. I think we have definitely put a lot more focus on the defense, I will say that much."

(On the impact that Coach Martin has had on his game)
"I think it has had a lot of impact. He is the guy that in practice he just keeps saying the same thing over and over. My first two years when I would miss threes he would say `100 shots a day will fix that.' `In the gym they will fix that.' I finally did it and that has helped me a lot. "

(On Richardson's mid range game being the best in the country)
"Yeah."

(On shutting down Jabari Brown)
"I started sensing that Jabari was frustrated when he got a travel call and I remember him slamming the ball down. I feel like when I get that moment of seeing a guy that I am guarding get frustrated that makes me want to play and go harder. That is like smelling blood in the water for a shark. It gets me going even more."

(On getting into his opponents heads)
"I let my game do the talking."

(On playing in the SEC Tournament)
"For me, approaching the game differently. Last year I got caught up in the lights of the SEC Tournament. I just have to come out and focus on the game. Play how we can play. We can't let anybody try and play different to get numbers, we have to play like we have been lately and we will be fine."

(On his confidence entering this SEC Tournament)
"Yes. Just speaking on how we have played these last three weeks, I think we hit our stride at the right time."

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