Get to Know Cuonzo Martin: Cal’s New Head CoachPosted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2014
With the sudden announcement on Tuesday that California had hired Cuonzo Martin – last seen taking Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen – as their new head coach, the Pac-12 coaching carousel appears to be done for the year, barring a major surprise. After names like Chris Mooney, Chris Mack, Russell Turner, Eric Musselman and, last season’s associate head coach under Mike Montgomery, Travis DeCuire, were brought up and discarded, landing a talented young coach like Martin is a strong hire for Cal and its athletic director, Sandy Barbour. And Martin isn’t headed to Berkeley alone, as before he was even officially announced as the new guy, 7’1” recruit Kingsley Okoroh released the news that he would be changing his commitment from Tennessee to California. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.
First, Martin hadn’t really even been on the radar for the Cal job until Tuesday morning, as the hot name had been primarily Mooney. But he was anxious to get away from Tennessee, where he was never embraced despite good success there: In three seasons, he logged three postseason appearances including one NCAA Tournament appearance (in which his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen), and one year where the Volunteers were the first team left out of the Big Dance, all while taking over a program that Bruce Pearl had left in something of a mess. Still, Volunteers fans started an online petition (with 36,000+ signees) before the season was over to fire him and bring back Pearl, so his ducking out the door despite recently pledging his commitment to the program is no big surprise. In fact, the players who battled for Martin this season came out to publicly support his decision to move on. For Martin, really, this is a no-brainer. With the Vols losing seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and with Jarnell Stokes heading to the NBA a year early, Martin gets out of town, signs a new, secure contract and gets a minimum of three or four years to prove that he is worthy of an extension at Cal.
But is he the right guy for the job at Cal? On one hand, you can look at Martin’s time in Knoxville with the NCAA Tournament appearances and argue that he accomplished a lot. On the other hand, you can say he took a team with a lot of talent in McRae, Maymon and Stokes, and only racked up a boring 63-41 (60.5%) record in three seasons. Furthermore, in three seasons of recruiting, he brought in just two top 100 recruits to Knoxville (Stokes committed late to Tennessee after reclassifying; then he signed Robert Hubbs last offseason); by way of comparison, Pearl brought in seven top 100 recruits in his final three recruiting classes there. So the jury is still out, but he will get a fresh start in the Bay Area with a fertile recruiting ground available right in his back yard. Sure, a lot of other Pac-12 coaches are also trying to get their mitts on to the vast amount of talent in the area, but if local kids want to play for a nearby program, the Golden Bears may be their best bet.
As for the immediate future in Berkeley, there is a lot for Martin to like. Sure, Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon are gone, but plenty of talent returns around the perimeter. Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews will be sophomores, with the former poised to break out and the latter coming off a surprisingly good freshman season. Tyrone Wallace will be a versatile junior who took a big step forward in his second year on campus, and then up front, David Kravish will be back for his fourth season as a major contributor for this team. Throw in returning role players like Ricky Kreklow, Kameron Rooks and Sam Singer and incoming freshman point guard Ahmaad Rorie, and Martin will have the opportunity to get off to a fine start in his new stomping grounds next season. It appears to be a pretty good hire from both sides of the equation.