Tag Archives: Cuonzo Martin

Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Basketball Team Gives Tiger Fans Reason To Be Excited

They say that the Earth was created in six days. Not too shabby. Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin may have that beat if we’re to believe both the experts and Missouri fans.

When Jim Sterk hired Martin to rebuild the Missouri basketball program, I’m not sure even Sterk envisioned Martin’s masterpiece being created in such short time. Martin hired Michael Porter Sr. to sit along side him on the bench and the rest was a domino effect. Porter Sr.’s blue chip recruit son, Michael Porter Jr., pledged his commitment to the Tigers, highly regarded point guard recruit Blake Harris jumped onboard Martin’s party bus, Jeremiah Tilmon was wooed away from Illinois, and, finally, Porter Jr.’s brother Jontay reclassified for the 2017 season and joined his father and oldest brother.

[Merenbloom: What Mizzou Assistant Michael Porter Sr. is All About – Family Values and Humility]
[Merenbloom: Missouri’s Jim Sterk Got His Man]

Martin inherited a team that went 8-24 in 2016. With only two players taller than 6’8”, the roster Kim Anderson left for Martin was short on height and talent. And now the 2017-18 team has multiple blue chip recruits to go along with six players who are taller than 6’8”. On paper, this is the most formidable roster Missouri has had since the late 1980s. Emphasis being placed upon ON PAPER.

Missouri went from SEC doormat to being considered contenders to win the conference. Not only that, but Missouri is one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship. Everyone needs to pump the brakes on Martin’s party bus.

Let’s at least see this team play before anointing them as a dream team. Martin’s team will certainly be talented, but it’s going to be a talented and young team. No matter how talented youth is, it’s still youth. A learning curve should be anticipated as these kids transition from high school and AAU ball to major college play.

The Tigers start the season at home against Iowa State. While the Cyclones aren’t considered to be an elite team this year, they should still be considered to be a tough test for a team as young as Missouri is. We’ll learn a lot about Martin’s team in this game but we shouldn’t base the entire season on this one game.

I expect this team to be good, but I also expect this team to have growing pains. Being able to score shouldn’t be a problem for this team. It’s on the defensive side of the court that I anticipate this team showing the most growth as the season progresses. Defense has a lot to do with being disciplined and knowing your opponent. Players coming right out of high school are used to being the biggest players on the court. This also means that these players are used to physically dominating their opponents. That won’t be the case most nights in the SEC.

Missouri fans should be excited about this team but the fans should also expect to see some frustrating moments. When those moments happen, just remember how the last three seasons went. It may take a few months for this team to mature and hit its stride, but once it does, it could really make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Be excited, but a trip to the Final Four shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion. But it sure is nice to be a Missouri basketball fan with legitimate anticipation and hope for an upcoming season. It’s been too long.

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E-mail Seth at seth.merenbloom@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Missouri’s Jim Sterk Got His Man

It didn’t take long for Jim Sterk to hire Cuonzo Martin as Missouri’s new head basketball coach. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Martin leading the Tigers. He has won at each program he’s been the head coach at and he recruits top tier talent. His ability to recruit both assistant coaches and players should have Missouri fans excited for the near future in particular. But all of that could, and will, be an article for another day.

The person who I want to focus on today is Jim Sterk.

Jim Sterk proved himself to be the anti-Mike Alden in the way he went about hiring Martin. Sterk was focused and efficient.

Based on both substantiated and unsubstantiated rumors, Sterk identified Tom Crean and Cuonzo Martin as his top two choices to replace Kim Anderson. There may or may not have been mutual interest between Sterk  and Crean. The two parties may have even talked. You know the saying; his people talked to their people. But for whatever reasons, Sterk and Crean went their separate ways.

At this point, the entire coaching search could have gone off the tracks. If you don’t remember the events that led up to Alden hiring Frank Haith and Kim Anderson, allow me to take you down memory lane.

When Mike Anderson left Missouri for his dream job at Arkansas, Alden went all-in on hiring Purdue coach Matt Painter. Painter seemed to be genuinely interested in accepting the Missouri job. And then, what seemed to be at the last minute, Painter elected to stay at Purdue. Alden was caught off guard and had to move along to Plan B. But did he really have a Plan B? That seemed to be the nagging question about his leadership at Missouri.

In this case, Plan B turned out to be Frank Haith. Haith was at Miami and found himself caught in the middle of the NCAA’s investigation into Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. To make matters worse, Haith had claimed to have had no involvement with Shapiro. I guess “no involvement” with Shapiro still allowed time for Haith and Shapiro to exchange 85 calls or texts with each other.

Even with the use of search firms and extensive background checks, Haith and his lack of honesty turned out to be Plan B for Alden.

And what about the search that Alden led to replace Haith? That may have resulted in one of the worst Power 5 conference hires of all-time.

Alden set his singular focus on Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. We can’t blame Alden for aiming high. But he had to close the deal and he just couldn’t do it. Whether Marshall couldn’t be had or Alden couldn’t present an enticing enough offer is irrelevant. What is relevant is where Alden went after being turned down by Marshall. Where Alden went was a long, lonely, cold, and dark road.

Waiting at the end of that road was Kim Anderson.

Anderson is, and always will be,  a True Son and had an enormous amount of success as the head coach at the University of Central Missouri. But Missouri is not a Division-2 job. Anderson was Alden’s Plan B after striking out on Marshall. There’s a enough distance between Marshall and Anderson to span the globe a few times.

Alden couldn’t go from Painter to Haith. But he did. And Alden absolutely couldn’t go from Marshall to Anderson. But, again, he did.

Missouri’s history with Alden is why Missouri fans should be ecstatic with the job that Sterk did in hiring Martin. Sterk was focused, efficient, and organized. If Crean was his top choice, Sterk didn’t allow Crean’s answer of “no” to throw him off course. Sterk remained focused, had a Plan B in mind who was strong enough that he could have easily been viewed as the top choice all along. And who knows, Martin may have been the bullseye on Sterk’s search. Sterk was that good at running this search.

You know what they say. Coffee is for closers. Sterk must start his days with a full pot.

E-mail Seth at seth.merenbloom@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Tennessee Must Support Donnie Tyndall Through NCAA Storm

The stability of the Tennessee Volunteers’ athletic department is in question, and has been for the last decade. In fact, the university shuffled in & out four football head coaches, three basketball head coaches, and an athletic director to boot. It seemed like Dave Hart, Butch Jones, and Donnie Tyndall were starting to build UT back up. Or so I thought, until news broke of an investigation into Donnie Tyndall’s actions at Southern Miss. My first thought was “AGAIN?!” Anger turned to sadness, and quickly ended in curiosity. Why is the NCAA picking on my coach, Donnie Tyndall? The answer, as I later found out, was because of new allegations that had surfaced surrounding Tyndall & his assistants. The media told us these accusations had some merit as well. The story broke right as the basketVols started to get hot. As a lifelong Vol fan, it seemed oddly fitting, and wasn’t surprising.

Everything that can go wrong with UT sports will go wrong. My fellow Volunteer fans will attest to that. We don’t say that for you to take pity on us, but rather to explain UT athletics in the best way we know how. The future looks bleak with the investigation looming over our heads, but we all hope there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Bruce Pearl was investigated during his tenure at UT. The NCAA probe led to the firing of Pearl, and the search for a new head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. As if losing one of the most beloved UT coaches of all time wasn’t bad enough, the Vols lost players, recruits, and fans because of the violations. Anytime a program has significant change, overall stability comes into question. We might reach that point soon with Donnie Tyndall. Now, what can we do to fix this?

Well, the easy solution is to fire him before we get hammered with violations by association. In fact, that’s UT athletics’ in a nutshell. Save face no matter what the cost. I’m tired of saving face. I’m tired of throwing good coaches out the door, and hiring bad ones (When I say good, I mean good for the program, and not necessarily wins and losses). I want the administration to support Donnie Tyndall like they do Butch Jones. My basketball coach is Donnie Tyndall, and I don’t want that to change.

Some will fault UT, some Dave Hart, some Tyndall, and others his assistants, but I’m holding judgment until this gets figured out. The university and Dave Hart had prior knowledge of Tyndall’s missteps at Morehead State, where he was also part of an investigation. As a side note, Donnie has been extremely upfront about the investigation throughout his tenure at Tennessee so far. Before the New Year, a couple of Tyndall’s assistants “resigned” from UT for various reasons. Those assistants were rumored to be involved with the investigation. I could say UT shouldn’t have hired Tyndall after learning of his problems with the NCAA, but is that fair? No, not really, because this is America, and we give second chances. Sometimes we even give third and fourth chances.

Losing Donnie Tyndall would be a fatal blow to the basketball program, and would call into question the rest of the athletic department. There are only so many times a fan can handle a coaching change. Only so many times a player can handle running different schemes before it greatly affects them. Donnie Tyndall had to replace approximately 80% of scoring, rebounds, and assists from last year because of the coaching change. Why did we need a new coach? Not because of an investigation forcing our hand, but because we hired a guy who didn’t want to be in Knoxville. To be fair, we didn’t want him either. The Vols were just a stepping-stone to greener pastures. We need a coach who loves Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Vols, just as much as we (fans) do. I long for a coach who is a VFL (Vol for Life). Phillip Fulmer, Bruce Pearl, and Butch Jones, are prime VFL examples and so is Donnie Tyndall. I can feel it. The University of Tennessee should stand behind Tyndall as long as it can. I truly believe “Donnie Knoxville” is the right man for the job. If there’s one thing I have learned as a UT fan, it’s that continuity is key. Coaching changes mess that up. I urge all Vol fans out there to answer my call, and support Donnie Tyndall as long as he coaches our boys.

Truth be told, nobody but the NCAA knows where this investigation will end. There are no absolutes either. If keeping Donnie Tyndall will seriously affect the future of our basketball team (I doubt it will), then I understand letting him go, but otherwise, weather the storm. They still have to gather evidence against Tyndall (if there is any), and that will take time. I want it done quickly and correctly though, because this storm cloud stalks UT’s recruiting ability, and detracts from the team’s performance. If the NCAA drops the hammer on Tyndall, will the University of Tennessee come to his defense, or will it be bye-bye Donnie Knoxville? It should be noted that in Donnie Tyndall’s contract, the University of Tennessee has the power to fire him if any violations are found to have happened. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that though, because the Vols have energized this fan base, and Donnie Tyndall seems to have put the Vols in a position to have success down the road. I highly doubt we will have a decision soon, but one thing is for sure, Tennessee needs stability, and Donnie Tyndall can provide it.