Tennessee Basketball: Martin Takes a Page from Pearl to Fight for State Loyalty

Mark AlewineContributor IJune 19, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 09:  Head coach Cuonzo Martin reacts during the game against the Mississippi Rebels during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Cuonzo Martin is not going to paint his chest orange.

Nor is Tennessee’s second-year coach going to sumo wrestle a student at Midnight Madness. He is, however, making Bruce Pearl-esque moves to build support for his emerging program across the state.

Joined by players Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall, Quinton Chievous, Brandon Lopez, and Ron Murphy, Martin conducted one day clinics for boys in kindergarten to sixth grade in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Greenville. The program known as SHOT (Statewide Hoops Outreach Tour) will conclude later this month in... you guessed it... Memphis.

Along with providing opportunities for young boys to meet their heroes, Martin made it very clear his intention for holding these clinics.

“Everywhere I go throughout the state of Tennessee, I’m always overwhelmed by the love and support of this program. Kids start to associate with that ‘Power T’ at a very young age, and I think it’s important to reach out to the children of this state and nurture their relationship with UT,” Martin told the Greeneville Sun.

Martin made a similar state with Govolsxtra.com

“I think for us to take this step further when it comes to men’s basketball, the brand of Cuonzo Martin, of Tennessee basketball, or whatever that brand is, needs to be strong. It’s really a lifestyle, day to day, or who I am. I think the fans and the supporters identify with that and embrace it.”

Martin’s grassroots efforts are similar to ex-coach and now marketing exec Bruce Pearl, who took over the Tennessee program after decades of irrelevancy. Understanding the need to win over fans as well as win over competitors, Pearl embraced both the student and alumni culture.

Along with the aforementioned body painting and sumo wrestling, he personally met with and invited students across campus to come to games. He revived the orange blazer made famous by former coach Ray Mears, and then revived Mears’s winning tradition by reaching the Elite Eight and a number one ranking. (Both were the first in school history).

With programs like SHOT, Martin intends to continue Pearl’s tradition of building a bridge between Thompson-Boling Arena and all parts of state. And just like Pearl’s gregarious personality showed through his work to win over fans, Martin’s willingness to fight for the loyalty of Tennesseans, even in the backyard of in-state rivals Memphis and Vanderbilt, reflects his dogged, unflinching presence with the Tennessee program.

With a five star recruit and Memphis native under his belt, Martin’s offseason efforts might already be working.