After an impressive first year at the helm of the Tennessee basketball program, head coach Cuonzo Martin is focused on improving the team and himself.
"As far as our guys are concerned, I like where we are headed as a program, I like what our guys are doing," said Martin.
Last season Martin took a team that was expected to be in the bottom half of the SEC to second place in the conference by year's end. Tennessee didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament, but made a run to the second round of the NIT.
Expectations are higher this year as the Volunteers are predicted to be in the Big Dance when March rolls around, but Martin is trying to keep things in perspective for his team.
"With most ballplayers and competitive ballplayers you understand the task at hand and know what they have to do," Martin said. "By the looks of things with workouts, they put the work and time into it but there is still plenty of work to be done. I think the biggest key for us is staying healthy and being as one unit, we will be fine."
Though Martin has had early success at Tennessee, he admits he is still trying to improve himself.
"I think for me as a coach, I don't stand here going into my fifth year as head coach and say this is who I am," Martin said. "I think 15 or 20 years down the road I can say this is who I am, but I think you are constantly growing as a coach."
Martin, who spent three years as the coach at Missouri State before coming to Knoxville, is open to adjusting things according to his team's needs.
"I think really we are always looking for different things," he said, "the best ways for our guys to be successful. Is there a better defense out there that fits this personnel? Is there a different type of offense to put (us) in the best position. We are always looking for that."
Even if Martin hasn't discovered who he is, he knows what he wants to base his identity around: hustle.
"I think the core of our program will never change. Playing as hard as you can play, be as tough as you can be, trying to go to class everyday, working as hard as you can work. Those things will never change regardless of personnel."
That philosophy of playing as hard as one can resonates with the players.
"Practices are tough and he expects a lot from us, but he is also always there for us," said senior forward Kenny Hall."We spend a lot of time together as a team and we just feel like a family."
Team cohesion and sense of togetherness is an important aspect of Martin and the program he likes to run.
"I think one of the things that we do as a staff and we do a good job, and I have to give my assistant coaches a lot of credit for this, is bringing our guys together," Martin said. "We like to consider ourselves a family, we take a lot of pride in our guys being together as much as possible, not putting yourselves in vulnerable situations, not compromising your character and integrity and what you believe."
Freshman guard Armani Moore was impressed by the team's closeness during his recruiting process.
"The coaching staff was great and really tried to make me feel at home from the first time we spoke," Moore said. "All the guys were really great and took the time to go out of their way and speak to me when I visited practice."
Martin is just in his second year, but he is firmly cementing his identity on the Volunteer basketball program and becoming an identity of Tennessee athletics in general.
"He's the face of our program," said senior forward Jeronne Maymon.