Basketball: Getting to know Cuonzo Martin

Who is Cuonzo Martin? Here’s a primer on Cal’s new basketball coach.

What’s in a name?

Martin’s first name is pronounced KAHN-zoe. He said he was named after the Italian doctor who delivered his father. He later met several others with his first name while playing professionally in Italy.

Will Travis DeCuire have a place on Martin’s staff?

All of Cal’s current assistants will get a chance to talk with Martin, but he sounded like a man ready to bring his UT staff to Berkeley.

“I’ll bring quite a few of them,” he said. “The guys you have on your staff have to know you, have to understand your style.”

How do Cal’s players, who wanted DeCuire to get the job, feel about Martin’s arrival?

“I liked him,” freshman guard Jabari Bird said. “He preaches the style of play, basically up and down, fast-paced. But he also wants his team to play defense.

“He talked about love and family and a lot of guys have given great feedback on his personality as a coach, saying he’s going to be fun to play for.

“The bottom line today is everybody is happy about the decision and we’re ready to move forward. We’ve got a great coach.”

How will Martin’s teams at Cal play the game?

“We want to defend at a high level, regardless of the opponent. We’ve got to to that, first and foremost. Our goal is to be the best defensive team in the league and fight for the top notch in the league.

“Shots don’t always fall. But we’ve got to defend, rebound and play hard every night.

“Offensively, we’ll run a motion style offense. we havce spacing. We penetrate the gaps. We’ll throw it inside to the bigs. It’s a free-flowing offense, but a lot of spacing, setting screens, attacking the rim.

“This past year we were one of five teams in the country in the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency. You have to be able to do both.”

Can Martin keep Cal’s fall signees?

The Bears signed four-star point guard Ahmaad Rorie and 6-foot-10 center Idrissa Diallo in November. Martin said he planned to talk to both as soon as possible.

Idrissa’s high school coach, Will Middlebrooks, told me, “Idrissa’s recruitment has been re-opened. New Cal staff will have equal opportunity to recruit Idy.”

Rorie texted me that he’s keeping an open mind and hasn’t decided anything yet about his future.

Finishing strong

All three of Martin’s Tennessee teams started slowly, then finished their seasons strong.

— In 2011-12, his debut season, the Volunteers were 10-12 before winning nine of their final 12 games to finish 19-15.

— In 2012-13, UT was just 11-10 when it won nine of its next 10 (including victories over Florida & Kentucky) on the way to a 20-13 campaign.

— In 2013-14, the Vols were 16-11 after an overtime loss at Texas A&M when they reeled off five straight wins and eight in nine games to reach the Sweet 16.

“We always get better at the end,” Martin said, “because we continue to work on skill and continue to grow as a team.”

How does Martin’s former coach and mentor, retired Purdue coach Gene Keady, feel Martin will fare as Mike Montgomery’s successor?

“Cuonzo Martin is the best leader I’ve ever been associated with in 55 years of coaching. He is a great family man, a great program man and he was a pleasure to coach. Cuonzo is determined to do things the right way, and Cal is getting a great mentor and coach to replace another great leader in Coach Montgomery.”

Jeff Faraudo