Oct. 19, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Cuonzo Martin has more than 5,000 reasons to believe his Tennessee coaching staff is one of the finest in college basketball.
Martin began his tenure as UT head coach in March and immediately set to work formulating the assistant coaching staff. Within 10 days of taking over the Vols basketball program, Martin hired Jon Harris, Tracy Webster and Kent Williams as his assistant coaches.
And he didn't just hire a trio of energetic young assistants, he inadvertently built the highest-scoring staff in major college hoops this season.
Tennessee's four-man coaching staff scored 5,381 points during their Division I playing days to lead the country.
"This staff is full of guys who have been high-level players in Division I basketball," Martin said. "We know what it takes to not only perform at your best on the court but also manage the demands of being a student-athlete."
Martin scored 1,666 points at Purdue from 1992-95. Webster was a Big Ten contemporary of Martin's, scoring 1,264 at Wisconsin from 1991-94. Harris tallied 439 points from 1999-2002 while playing alongside Dwyane Wade at Marquette, and Williams ended his career as the second leading scorer in Southern Illinois history with 2,012 points.
Auburn's coaching staff is next at 4,373 career points, according to research by Tom Satkowiak and the UT Media Relations staff, followed by Valparaiso (4,146), Kansas (3,834) and Duke (3,805) in the top five.
Will successful playing careers translate to wins and development in today's game? Martin thinks so.
"I'm excited about the coaching staff we've put in place," he said. "These are honest, hard-working guys with a passion for the game of basketball. They're all excited at coaching on the floor, recruiting, scouting, teaching and developing young players."
"Coach Williams and I talk for hours a day about basketball and being point guards," Golden said. "It's great. Sometimes in practice they say, `We've been through this; we know what you're going through.' To hear words like that is different but it's great. They understand."
Williams says while many different types of individuals make great coaches, it's no accident Martin put the staff together the way he did.
"I think he likes having guys who have played because we're working with guys on the court," Williams said. "No. 1, it earns the respect of the players. Not that we use it, but we could tell them to go look it up. See what we've done. It's right there in black and white.
"Also, the four of us were different types of players. Some of us were self-made players. Some of us started from day one. Some of us came off the bench and worked our way into the starting rotation. So now when we have relationships with these players, we've been in different spots."
Williams came to Tennessee after working three years on Martin's staff at Missouri State. Before that, Martin and he were on the Purdue staff under Gene Keady, Martin as an assistant coach and Williams as supervisor of basketball operations.
During his playing career at Southern Illinois from 2000-03, Williams earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors in each of his last two seasons and was the only player in SIU history to lead the team in scoring four straight years. The Salukis advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2002.
Following graduation, Williams spent one season playing in the NBA Developmental League and was the league's top 3-point shooter both in made baskets and percentage.
"Coach Harris and I are not too far removed from our playing days, so we've got a good feel for what these guys are feeling," Williams said. "The longer you are out of it the less you maybe know what they are thinking. We're not too far removed. We can talk about guys in the NBA who we played against and who they can relate to."
He went into coaching the following season at Marquette under Tom Crean, helping his alma mater win the C-USA title and advance to the Final Four. Harris watched as Wade guided the Golden Eagles past Kentucky in the NCAA regional final with a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
"It's something that is great for us, especially from a recruiting standpoint," Harris said of the playing staff's success. "We have guys who have been through the fire. The guys on our current roster and guys we bring in aren't going to go through an experience we haven't seen.
"We're not that far removed from what they're going through. I think we're all approachable guys, easy to communicate with. And we have a good understanding of what they're going through day to day."
Harris went on to coach five seasons at Wisconsin-Green Bay before joining Martin at Missouri State for the last three years.
"Jon played with one of the greatest players in the game in Dwyane Wade, so he really knows what it takes to be a great role player," Martin said. "And because of his effectiveness as a communicator, he can really help our guys understand and accept their roles."
Webster and Martin were Big Ten rivals at Purdue and Wisconsin in the early 1990s, with Martin getting the best of those matchups by a 4-2 margin. Both earned all-conference honors and Webster, a three-time captain, still holds the Badgers record for career assists with 501.
They later coached together as assistants at Purdue in 2004. Now, Webster is glad to be reunited with his former playing foe on the coaching bench.
"Our leader, Coach Martin, he's done an unbelievable job of getting these players close to what he wants," Webster said. "Before it's all over with, these guys will be like a tight fist. That's what it's going to take.
"It's not just because we played, but we've been through it. Now we've just got to continue finding a way to explain it and get it across to them, `Look, this is how it needs to be done.'"
Other coaching stops for Webster in addition to Purdue included Ball State, Illinois, two seasons at Kentucky under Billy Gillispie, DePaul including a stint as interim head coach, and last year at Nebraska. In all, Webster owns eight seasons of high-major Division I coaching experience, with four NCAA tournament berths and one Final Four appearance (Illinois) to his credit.
"Tracy Webster was a great point guard," Martin said. "He will be a great teacher for our guards because he was a really complete basketball player and he has a great mind for the game.
"He also adds great experience coaching in the SEC, Big Ten and Big East."
Before he was a coach, Martin was a standout player. At Purdue, he scored 1,666 points in 127 career games, and he helped lead Purdue to a 90-37 record during his four-year career and a combined 54-12 mark his last two seasons. During Martin's senior year, he averaged 18.4 points while leading Purdue to the second of three consecutive Big Ten championships.
After his first two years at Purdue, Martin was 0-for-7 from 3-point range. But by the time his career was over, Martin held the school's all-time record for 3-pointers made of 179.
Those numbers certainly caught the attention of Vols senior guard Cameron Tatum, who is Tennessee's active leader with 108 career 3-pointers.
"It's great to pick his brain on different things, like when you're on a hot streak," Tatum said. "He knows that feeling. It's not going to be a case of hitting two 3's in a row and coming out of the game. Coach Martin is going to think, `OK, I'm going to leave him in. He's got that feeling and he might hit six more.'"
Martin had one of those nights playing in the same building Tatum loves - Thompson-Boling Arena.
On March 24, 1994, Martin set the Purdue school record for 3-pointers made with eight in an NCAA Sweet Sixteen win over Kansas here in Knoxville. That mark still stands.
Martin went on to play four seasons of professional basketball, including brief stays with the Milwaukee Bucks and Vancouver Grizzlies in the NBA.
"It's good for me," Tatum added. "I can actually talk to them about what I'm going to embark on over the next few months. They've been through the fires both in college and the NBA, and they've been through what it takes playing in college and being a student-athlete at the same time.
"That's why Coach Martin is so firm on discipline, because he knows what it takes. He can say, `I've been there in your shoes before, guys. I know sometimes you don't want to go to class, have to practice or do workouts and things like that.'
"He knows all the tricks in the trade."
Golden agrees. His early impression of Martin's coaching staff is all positive, and he can't wait for Nov. 3 and the start of the exhibition season.
"It's like being a freshman all over again," he said. "You don't know what to expect and everybody's really a freshman out here. We're just excited for the season."