KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has turned to Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin to stabilize a basketball program facing NCAA sanctions following recruiting violations by former coach Bruce Pearl.
Tennessee announced Sunday it had hired the 39-year-old Martin as the Vols’ 18th head coach. A press conference to introduce Martin was scheduled for Monday.
Martin takes over at Tennessee without knowing what kind of sanctions the Vols may face next season. School officials will go before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on June 10-11, with final word on the Vols’ punishment likely not coming until the fall.
“Cuonzo is among the most promising young coaches in the game, and we are excited about the coaching ability, toughness and energy that he brings to our program,” Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. “He has a proven track record of success as a head coach at Missouri State and an assistant at Purdue as well as an outstanding career as a college basketball player.”
Martin went 61-41 in three seasons at Missouri State after eight years as an assistant coach at Purdue under Gene Keady and Matt Painter. During his tenure, the Bears improved from 11-20 in his first season to 26-9 in the 2010-11 season, earning them their first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship and Martin the MVC coach of the year honor.
As a player at Purdue, Martin scored 1,666 points in 127 career games and set the Boilermakers’ single-game record for 3-pointers with eight in an NCAA regional semifinal victory over Kansas in 1994.
The East St. Louis, Ill., native was selected 57th overall in the 1995 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks and played in the NBA for four years, including stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Vancouver Grizzlies.
While playing in Europe in November of 1997, Martin was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He returned to the United States for treatment of a malignant tumor between his heart and lungs, and is currently in full remission.
“Cuonzo has an inspiring personal story, and we look forward to his impact on Tennessee basketball,” Hamilton said.
Martin and Missouri State faced Pearl and Tennessee on Nov. 17 in the second round of the preseason NIT, a close game won by the Vols, 60-56. Tennessee went on to win the tournament.
It was one of the lone bright spots in the Vols’ season after Pearl acknowledged in a tearful press conference on Sept. 10 that he’d mislead the NCAA investigation about a cookout at his home attended by high school juniors. The NCAA has since alleged 10 violations by Tennessee’s basketball program and charged Pearl with unethical conduct.
Pearl was fired after school officials became aware of additional potential violations committed by him and his staff. According to news reports, a player received extra tickets to Tennessee’s March 6 home game against Kentucky, and the NCAA said Pearl violated its “bump rule” on Sept. 14 after speaking with a high school junior on a recruiting trip to Georgia.
In six seasons, Pearl, 51, amassed a 145-61 record. The Volunteers made school history during his tenure by achieving their first No. 1 ranking in 2008, winning their first Southeastern Conference regular-season championship in four decades and reaching their first NCAA tournament regional finals before missing out on a trip to the 2010 Final Four by a single point.
Beth Rucker/The Associated Press