Cuonzo Martin walked head-first into a storm. Worse yet, he committed to the move when he didn't know how severe the storm would be; in the parlance of the East Coast's weekend weather, Martin couldn't predict whether he was facing a tropical storm or a Category 3 hurricane. But he decided to leave Missouri State for Tennessee anyway, hoping the NCAA committee on infractions would spare the Volunteers from a potentially devastating postseason ban.
The committee announced its decision late last week, and Bruce Pearl was the one punished most harshly. Tennessee, on the other hand, came out just fine, avoiding a dreaded postseason ban as the committee recognized Tennessee's unprecedented self-penalties and the fact that Pearl, his staff and former athletic director Mike Hamilton have all been removed from their positions.
"I think we came out as good as we possibly could in a situation like this," Martin told reporters. "I think prospects are more at ease making decisions; guys who liked Tennessee now like Tennessee even more."
"I've been on the phones with recruits and in meetings with our staff members and players," he said. "I think the recruits' biggest concern was a potential postseason ban, and that was the biggest thing we were hoping to avoid. Everything else, you have a chance of overcoming, but that's hard for a young high school player to overcome."
Martin's right: A postseason ban effectively kills your ability to recruit. It's nearly impossible to convince elite talent to come to your school, because that elite talent often believes it's going to the NBA after one season, and why would you spend that one season playing for a school that can't go to the NCAA tournament and the exposure it provides? And it's not exactly easy to get marginal prospects, either, even if the postseason ban only lasts one season. For players, it's wasted time.
That kind of temporary setback and subsequent transfer exodus can set your program back years at a time. Tennessee will have some struggles ahead, that's for sure. But Martin can still make a credible case to former Tennessee recruits that little has changed at the program, that it's still a place that can compete in the SEC and NCAA tournaments every year. There's no way to understate the importance of that ability.