KNOXVILLE -- After Tennessee’s 99-57 exhibition win over Victory University Monday night, Volunteers basketball coach Cuonzo Martin fielded a question during his postgame press conference about his team’s effort in the victory.
“We got the W,” Martin said. “Obviously, that's all we wanted to do because we haven't played a game yet. These guys beat up on each other all day in practice, so it was a good game under the lights and we'll go from there.
“We start on Friday and there’s no turning back.”
The second-year UT head coach was referencing Friday’s regular-season opener against Kennesaw State at Thompson-Boling Arena (7 p.m. ET, FOX Sports South). Regardless of whether or not the Vols are clicking on all cylinders, the season is here, and the process of building an NCAA Tournament résumé begins now.
Last season, early non-conference losses to teams such as Austin Peay, Oakland and College of Charleston were both a gift and a curse. The setbacks were a necessary part of the learning process as the Vols settled into a comfort level with their new head coach his system. And the growth from those setbacks served as fuel for eventual triumphs against Florida (twice), defending national champion UConn and Vanderbilt.
The curse was felt on “Selection Sunday” in March, however, when the Vols failed to make the field of 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament.
What is the approach as the Vols enter this season with a more experienced roster?
“The approach we bring to these non-conference games needs to be the same as when we’re playing SEC games,” senior forward Kenny Hall said. “We know we have to have that same level of preparation.
“We’re very focused right now, thanks to the leadership of our coaches. They’ve done a great job of keeping us in shape – and when I say ‘in shape,’ I mean mentally in shape. They keep us focused and grounded. We know when the season starts on Friday we need to tighten it up and be a strong unit out there.”
Cuonzo Martin media comments - http://bit.ly/SrxcdJ
Quinton Chievous media comments - http://bit.ly/Uhw6a3
D’Montre Edwards media comments - http://bit.ly/QlCETI
Kenny Hall media comments - http://bit.ly/Tv3OVg
Armani Moore media comments - http://bit.ly/VRxT1b
Hall is expected to be joined in the Vols’ opening-night starting lineup by point guard Trae Golden, wings Skylar McBee and Josh Richardson and power forward Jarnell Stokes.
FEEDING OFF THE CROWD
Trae Golden has fond memories of last year’s season-opener against UNC Greensboro.
Then a sophomore, Golden was taking over as the Vols’ starting point guard for the first time despite very little experience after having played behind veteran Melvin Goins in 2010-11. Golden had just one previous start under his belt, and he had never scored more than eight points in a college game.
UNC Greensboro may not have had much film to watch on Golden prior to the game, but the Spartans had an intense familiarity with the Powder Springs, Ga., native by the time the final buzzer sounded. Golden’s stat line that night included 29 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
Golden said the crowd played a big role in his performance.
“I remember the crowd gave me a lot of energy,” Golden said. “I was already anxious – the whole team was anxious – but having all those fans there cheering us on made us push that much harder and really made us want to go as hard as we could go.”
Golden and his teammates hope to see a packed house this Friday when they tipoff against the Owls of Kennesaw State.
“We definitely want to see a great Tennessee crowd (Friday),” Golden said. “That has a huge impact on us. We know that if we go on a run or if someone makes a big play, our fans will stand up and bring that energy to the table for us. They always do.”
In 25 previous home-openers at Thompson-Boling Arena, the average attendance is 17,196. Three of the last five lid-lifters on Rocky Top have drawn crowds larger than 20,000.
The Vols are riding a 20-game win streak in home-openers, dating to the 1992-93 campaign, when Tennessee legend Allan Houston was embarking on his senior season. He was the SEC scoring champion that year, averaging 22.3 points per game.
Another interesting note related to the No. 20: This is the last season fans will ever see a Tennessee men’s basketball player wear that number.
It was retired in Houston’s honor on March 6, 2011, but Houston gave current senior Kenny Hall his blessing to allow Hall to wear No. 20 for the remainder of his career.
EMPHASIS OF THE DAY
Tuesday’s “Emphasis of the Day” – daily midcourt talking points spearheaded by Martin prior to each practice – centered on achieving greatness.
How do you go from good to great? You never stop learning, perfecting, refining – molding your skills. You never stop depending on the fundamentals – sustaining, maintaining and improving … the mental things that little kids won’t do because it’s dull and boring.
ABOUT THE OWLS
Kennesaw State returns just two starters from last year’s squad that went 3-28 (0-18 A-Sun), but the Owls welcome seven talented newcomers to the fold in head coach Lewis Preston’s second year.
Preston was a longtime assistant coach at Penn State before taking the reins at KSU. And prior to his tenure with the Nittany Lions, he held assistant coaching stints under Billy Donovan at Florida (two seasons) and Mike Brey at Notre Dame (six seasons).
Versatile senior Markeith Cummings is 81 points shy of becoming KSU’s all-time leading scorer, as he enters the season with 1,603 career points to his credit. Cummings averaged 15.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last year and is extremely aggressive offensively.
Other impact players for Kennesaw State include sophomore guard Delbert Love and senior forward Aaron Anderson. Love averaged 12.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last year. Anderson was the A-Sun’s leading rebounder last season (9.0 rpg), averaged 8.9 points per game and had a league-leading 11 double-doubles.
The trio of Cummings, Anderson and Love accounted for 58.5 percent of the Owls’ total points last season.
Tennessee is 16-5 all-time against current members of the Atlantic Sun Conference but has never faced Kennesaw State.
Backup point guard Armani Moore, a true freshman, is a native of Kennesaw, Ga., and graduated from Mt. Paran Christian School. Moore said Tuesday that he grew up just five minutes away from the KSU campus.
Three other Vols hail from the state of Georgia. Senior forward Kenny Hall is from Stone Mountain, and junior guards Trae Golden and Jordan McRae are from Powder Springs and Midway, respectively.
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 email@example.com)