Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - by special report to chattanoogan.com

KNOXVILLE -- The Tennessee basketball team (1-0) departs early Tuesday morning for Bayamón, Puerto Rico, where they are among eight teams competing in the 2012 Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

The Volunteers face UNC Asheville (1-1) Thursday on the tournament’s first day of competition. Tennessee tips off against the Bulldogs at 12:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

The winner of that game faces the winner of Thursday’s Akron-Oklahoma State matchup on Friday. All eight teams are off Saturday before playing a third and final game on Sunday. All tournament games are contested at Coliseo Ruben Rodriquez, and the four teams on the opposite side of the bracket from UT are UMass, NC State, Penn State and Providence.

In the one-year period spanning from Nov. 19, 2011, to Nov. 19, 2012, the Vols will have spent 10 days in Italy and close to a week in both Maui and Puerto Rico.

To view the 2012 Puerto Rico Tip-Off bracket, click HERE.

Cuonzo Martin media comments - http://youtu.be/nz0vLQDoKRI

Josh Richardson media comments - http://youtu.be/D6H7snejdK8

Jarnell Stokes media comments - http://youtu.be/GQ-rxuITi_s


Tennessee has competed in two previous early-season tournaments in Puerto Rico but each time failed to return to Rocky Top with a championship.

The Vols went 2-1 at the 1999 Puerto Rico Holiday Classic, defeating American-Puerto Rico and Southern Illinois before falling to Tulsa in the title game. Prior to that, the Big Orange posted a 1-2 record at the 1991 San Juan Shootout, with a win over American-Puerto Rico followed by losses to TCU and Miami (Fla).

When Tennessee faced Southern Illinois in 1999 in Bayamón, the Salukis were led by a savvy freshman guard named Kent Williams. Now in his second year as an assistant coach on Cuonzo Martin’s Tennessee staff, Williams led SIU that day with 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting. He also grabbed six rebounds and had a pair of assists, but UT prevailed 87-74.


Williams isn’t the only member of the Tennessee program with noteworthy connections to Puerto Rico.

During his tenure as head coach at Appalachian State, UT director of basketball operations Houston Fancher guided the Mountaineers to the 2006 San Juan Shootout title, posting consecutive wins over Virginia, UCF and Vanderbilt.

Tennessee freshman Derek Reese suited up for the Puerto Rican team at this past summer’s Nike Global Challenge in Washington, D.C. The 6-8 guard from Orlando, Fla., started all four games at the event and averaged 21.0 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals (all team-highs) for the Puerto Rican squad. Reese was eligible for the team because his grandparents, Anselmo and Irma Montanez, were born in Puerto Rico.

Prior to competing at the Nike Global Challenge in July, Reese spent a week training with his team in Puerto Rico. Though he’s returning with his Tennessee teammates this week, he will be inactive on the court, as he is rehabbing from shoulder surgery in August.

Lastly, sophomore guard Brandon Lopez is eagerly anticipating his first trip to Puerto Rico because his father, Hector Lopez, was born there. Lopez’s father now resides in Florida.


Monday’s “Emphasis of the Day” – daily midcourt talking points spearheaded by Martin prior to each practice – centered on the role of a leader.

What a tremendous opportunity and responsibility it is to coach and lead. A leader’s ultimate role is to serve. A leader is a servant.


After winning back-to-back Big South championships, UNC Asheville graduated six seniors and returns just one starter from last year’s 24-10 (16-2 Big South) team.

The Bulldogs, led by longtime head coach Eddie Biedenbach, ranked fifth in the nation in scoring last season with 80.7 ppg.

Swingman Jeremy Atkinson is the Bulldogs’ top returning scorer and rebounder (11.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg). Junior 6-10 center D.J. Cunningham and 7-0 sophomore Jaleel Roberts give Asheville two imposing low-post players. Cunningham sat out last season with a knee injury but is now a starter. He has nine blocks through UNCA’s first two games.

Tennessee is 24-4 all-time against current members of the Big South Conference.


Red Kettle Campaign Kickoff Photo Gallery

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin took time out of his Puerto Rico Tip-Off preparations Monday afternoon to help local Salvation Army representatives kick off their annual Red Kettle Campaign.

Martin spoke about the importance of The Salvation Army’s programs and services, which provide assistance to more than 30,000 people in six East Tennessee counties. Martin urged the community to consider donating to the Red Kettles or volunteering their time to serve as bell-ringers and man kettles at area businesses.

The Salvation Army has served the Knoxville area since 1899, and the Knoxville Area Command’s 2012 Red Kettle Goal is $600,000 – 15 percent of the command’s total operating budget.

For the most up-to-date information about the Tennessee basketball program, visit UTsports.com/basketball and follow @Vol_Hoops on Twitter.

(E-mail Stan Crawley at wscrawley@earthlink.net)

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