Cuonzo Martin loves international basketball, and he loves his country.
Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin is set to travel to China to coach Team USA in the World University Games.
In other words, Tennessee’s first-year men’s hoops coach is thrilled with his temporary side gig.
Martin will be one of a few college coaches leading star-studded Team USA into mid-August’s World University Games in Shenzen, China.
“It’s a privilege and a blessing, and it’s an opportunity to soak up more knowledge about the game of basketball,” Martin said shortly before leaving for training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m honored and excited.”
Martin and Butler’s Brad Stevens will assist Purdue’s Matt Painter during The Games, from Aug. 13-22.
Arizona’s Sean Miller, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and VCU’s Shaka Smart will help the main staff during its 10-day training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., but Martin and Stevens will be the only two assistants traveling with Painter and the team to China.
Martin accepted Team USA’s offer while coaching at Missouri State, but UT’s administration allowed him to honor the commitment.
“They’ve supported this 100 percent,” he said. “It’s important for me to represent my country. USA Basketball, it’s a tremendous thing to be a part of, and it’s tough to get in there to do it. I had some coaches that knew I was a part of it on the AAU circuit, and I was like, ‘If there’s any way you can (help), I’d love to be a part of it.’ From a coaching standpoint, it’s where you want to be, and it’s what you want to do.
“It’s just a honor for me to be a part of this.”
Martin will assist Purdue head coach Matt Painter (above), a former coworker and one of his closest friends in the business, for the next month.
Martin, who played professionally overseas after his NBA career, said he’s “always been a big fan” of international competition and “can’t wait” to coach in China.
“Without a doubt, it’s special,” he said. “When you watch the Olympics, and you see when guys win championships — I’ll never forget watching (swimmer) Michael Phelps win all those races — man, just to see that and be a part of USA Basketball, it’s just exciting. When I see them, everything stops for me. I’m always watching basketball, but when the Olympics come on, I’m watching every second. You gain so much knowledge, and you see people you’ve never watched before, and you learn something by watching them be successful.
“This is one of those deals where you can represent your country and have fun doing it.”
Martin laughed while going over some of the college stars invited to participate in the team’s training. The full list of more than two dozen invitees — which can be found here — includes several high-profile players Tennessee will face this season.
Included in the team’s training-camp roster are several former foes familiar to UT fans: Alabama’s JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, Kentucky’s Darius Miller, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs.
All but Green and Napier are scheduled to face the Vols this season, too.
“For real, the goal for me, first and foremost, it’s to try to win a gold medal for the USA,” Martin said when asked how heavily he’d scout UT’s future foes. “I’ll coach those guys to the best of my abilities, and push those guys to be successful. Hopefully we’ll win the gold, and when it’s all over I can tell those guys, ‘I’m proud of you; now tone it down when I see you in Knoxville.’
“But we’re all on the same team right, and I’m really excited about coaching those great players.”
Martin said his previous experience with and firsthand knowledge of his Tennessee staff eased his concerns about making this trip mere months after taking a new job in Knoxville.
“Our guys will be in good hands,” he said. “As a coach, when you make the transition to do something like this, that’s one of the great things about having a really good staff of guys around you that know what you’re trying to do, so the transition for me is easy. If I’d hired all new guys, ...this would have been difficult.
“When you have guys that understand you and have been around you, it’s a smooth transition.”
Martin didn’t take the bet when asked which UT assistant would have the most responsibilities during his absence. He laughed while saying “all the guys” would play vital parts.
“They all understand the plan. Everybody knows what he has to do,” he said. “That’s the great thing about having a staff that understands you, and guys that want to be successful and want to help our guys develop — that’s the most important thing, that development.
“We know what we have to do. That train keeps rolling.”
Recruiting calls covered: Martin hasn’t spent much time in Knoxville this month. July’s second evaluation period ended just before he left for Team USA training camp.
Martin can’t discuss which specific players Tennessee evaluated, but he said his staff has enjoyed a “really good” reception on the road.
“From a recruiting standpoint, there’s only so much you can do from an evaluating standpoint this time of year,” he said. “You can’t do a lot of talking with your guys. Once they get off the road, you can make your calls and get on the road and do all that.”
Martin, of course, will be in China during this phone-dominated portion of the recruiting calendar.
Not to worry, though. Martin said he solved that potential problem.
“I’ve got an international phone, so I’ll be able to call all the recruits,” Martin said. “We’ll be good with that sort of thing.”
Waiting on Washpun, Makanjoula: Martin said everything remains on schedule in regards to UT’s roster management. The team’s veterans haven’t had any major academic issues, and three of the five signees are enrolled in summer classes.
Martin said incoming freshmen Yemi Makanjoula and Wes Washpun are finishing up one final class apiece and are on track to be “good to go” by the fall semester.
“Those two guys, we’re just waiting on them now,” Martin said. “That’s been the protocol all summer. We’re just waiting on those two guys to finish up in the classroom, but we’re good.”
Martin, who can’t be around his team much on the court during the summer, said workouts seem to be going well — at least “from what they say,” anyway.
“I’ve never been a guy that really tries to gauge guys based on what they do in pickup games,” Martin said. “When I see the guys, when I see their bodies coming out of the weight room — because I can’t watch them in the weight room — but the guys have more chiseled shoulders and bigger abs and all that stuff. That’s not really a gauge, but it tells me the guys are putting in the work. I know the stuff they’re going through, the workouts that they’re doing, ...I mean, it’s tough not to make progress when you’re doing those workouts.
“You’ve just got to make a decision, one way or the other — ‘Am I going to put in the work?’”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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