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Orange-clad Cuonzo Martin hits the road

7/6/2011

PHILADELPHIA -- The best thing you can do, Cuonzo Martin said, is to be honest with everyone.

And yes, there is a more than a hint of irony in that simple statement.

If Martin’s predecessor had been honest from the get-go, chances are the University of Tennessee wouldn’t be in such hot water with the NCAA. And who knows, maybe Martin is still wearing his Missouri State gear as he embarks on the odyssey of July recruiting.

But Bruce Pearl fudged the truth, his program unraveled and because of all that, on Wednesday, Martin took a seat in the Philadelphia University bleachers for the first day of the Reebok Breakout Challenge wearing the impossible-to-miss day-glo orange of the Vols.

In a lot of ways, this July is no different than any other July for Martin. He’s been in the coaching business for 11 years and has worn out plenty of bleachers in his day. But this month is also unlike any other Martin has had to face. He recruits unsure of what Tennessee’s future holds and is asked questions he has no answers for.

“When people ask me about what’s going to happen to us,’’ the UT basketball coach said, “I just tell them the truth: I don’t know. I could guess but if I’m wrong, guys will come back and say, ‘Yeah, coach, but you said …’’ and that doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m just trying to be honest with them and right now the honest answer is I don’t know.’’

The Committee on Infractions is expected to render its decision on Tennessee sometime before summer’s end, and though the date has yet to be etched on the calendar, Martin already is looking forward to it.

“It will be nice when this is all just behind us,’’ he said. “It will be nice to just move forward, whatever that might mean.’’

Whatever the committee decides, the Vols’ future will be made now, when Martin -- like everyone else -- scours for talent. Martin wasn’t planning to stick around Philadelphia long -- by mid-afternoon he was on a flight to Akron for the LeBron James Skills Academy, and from there he will continue the month-long ritual crisscrossing the United States.

As exhausting as the travel is, Martin was looking forward to it for a lot of reasons.

For starters, he’s always been a recruiting junkie. He said he remembered once when he chose to come off the road for a brief time, only to find his battery drained when it was time to go back out.

“Now I just know, you have to keep on going,’’ he said.

But this year, July is especially welcome. It is his first wearing the Tennessee orange, but it’s also the first real normalcy he’s had since taking over in Knoxville in late March. The first few months for any new head coach are, at best, organized mayhem. There are new campus faces to meet, alumni to greet, hands to shake and community groups to embrace.

For Martin, it’s been even more tumultuous. Pearl remains a popular and beloved coach in the Volunteer State and his dismissal was hardly a universally popular decision. Then in June, his athletic director resigned, and days later Martin was part of the Tennessee contingent that attended the COI hearings.

July chaos? That he knows.

On Tuesday night, he kissed his family goodbye and won’t reconnect with them until July 18, when his sister Jamikka gets married in St. Louis.

“She intentionally picked the one quiet weekend so I could be there,’’ Martin laughed.

From there it is back out for Round 2 on the recruiting calendar, followed by a month as assistant coach for the World University Games team in China.

“In all, I won’t really be home until Aug. 23,’’ Martin said. “By then, hopefully things will be settled.’’