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How Cuonzo Martin Made a Major Impact on Rick Barnes’ Family

Betting Futures: SEC Champion

As Tennessee’s first SEC Tournament game was getting started on Friday evening, former Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin had been let go as the Missouri Tigers’ head coach. After a five-year tenure in Columbia, and after having spent eight of the last 11 years as an SEC head coach, Martin and the Tigers had parted ways.

Prior to Martin’s arrival at Missouri, he was the Tennessee head coach from 2011 to 2014, leading the Vols to an overall record of 63-41.

Over the years, and especially with their Tennessee ties, Rick Barnes and Martin have crossed paths many times. And while Barnes has a great amount of respect for Martin on the court, his relationship with the former Missouri coach was built, and means the most, off the court.

After leading the Vols to a hard-fought win in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday, Barnes met with the media in Tampa. Barnes was immediately asked about coach Martin in his individual postgame press conference, to which he gave a long, genuine, and honest answer.

“First of all, there is not a finer person in the business than coach Martin,” Barnes said after the SEC Tournament game on Friday. “I’m telling you. If I had a son, I’ve said it before, I would have loved for him to play for him. Coach Martin and Tom Crean, I think both of those guys, one thing I know is that they are both terrific basketball coaches.”

Barnes has two grandchildren, Caleb Richard and Avery Grace, who were adopted from Uganda about two years apart starting around 2011. And as Barnes says, the Martin family was instrumental in helping the Barnes family along the road.

“But knowing coach Martin better, I can tell you this,” Barnes continued on to say. “You know I’ve got two adopted black grandchildren and I called him one day and said, ‘Help me through this. Tell me what I need to know as a grandfather.’ My daughter was having some issues that she wanted the answer to and Cuonzo’s wife talked to my daughter. So I look at him in a whole different light. And I know this, if I was an (Athletic Director) somewhere, he would be the first guy I would want to go get. Because I know where his heart is in terms of the game of basketball.”

It’s easy to tell that Barnes has a great deal of respect for Cuonzo Martin as both a man and a basketball coach.

“He’s always done it right,” Barnes said about Martin. “And again, I said when I went to Tennessee, I thought that he had walked into a tough situation and handled it with great class. The first time that I saw coach Martin after I had accepted the job at Tennessee he had nothing but glowing remarks about Tennessee and said, ‘They’ve got a great basketball base. You’re going to love it.’ So I have great respect for him and it saddens me, to be honest with you. Because again, he’s not just a guy that I have competed against. A guy that, like I said, has given me some wonderful advice over the years in a lot of different areas.”

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