Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin is labeling his 2013-14 team as "a tougher breed," and he opened the Vols' media day on Monday by describing what just what that means.
"It's the way you play all the time, regardless of the outcome, and it's a brand," Martin said. "I feel good about it."
The third-year UT coach believes his program is now appropriately able to embody that phrase as it strains for its first NCAA Tournament berth since Bruce Pearl's tumultuous departure following the 2010-11 season.
"You guys hear us talk about 'a tougher breed' now, and that's something I think that has been a part of our program," Martin said. "But now is probably the first time I've really revealed it as a coach because I feel like we're built for it."
A cornerstone portion of that mentality is the weight training that UT strength and conditioning coach Nicodemus Christopher subjects the UT players to.
Highly-touted freshman shooting guard Robert Hubbs is "15 or 16" pounds heavier with muscle now than when he arrived on campus on May 28.
"I was expecting to put on a couple," Hubbs said Monday, "but not that much in that short amount of time."
That emphasis on weight training is coupled with an intense conditioning regimen and an adamance by Martin that his players finish practice at the pace they start, which takes its toll on the body.
"Sometimes it's hard to maintain that weight because we run a lot and stuff like that," redshirt sophomore forward Quinton Chievous said, "but coach Nic, that's probably one of his big things is that we have all those nutrition meals, snacks and things so we can maintain our weight."
A better shooting breed
Tennessee's lockdown defender a season ago, junior guard Josh Richardson was often dared to shoot from the perimeter as defenders sought to stay in front of UT's leading scorer Jordan McRae and double Jarnell Stokes down low.
If the offseason is any indication, opponents won't be able to repeat that in 2013-14. Martin said that Richardson has shot about 68 percent from the perimeter over the offseason, and Richardson attributes that to his offseason work.
"It's definitely been a big focus for me," Richardson said. "The past few years, I haven't shot the three ball as well as I wanted to. So I feel like this year, I put a lot of work into it. I'm real confident going in.
"If I'm able to knock down an open shot, I feel like that will stretch the court a little more."
Dealing with expectation
Martin described his squad "as the most talented team across the board" that he has coached in his time at UT. It's a label that comes with expectations.
"I guess you could say that," Stokes said. "These guys expect to make the tournament. We are very hungry right now."
– Assistant Sports Editor Troy Provost-Heron and Copy Editor Steven Cook contributed to this story.