The University of Missouri has hired a new athletic director, president, chancellor, football coach and now basketball coach within the last 16 months.
The hiring of East St. Louis native Cuonzo Martin signals what Athletic Director Jim Sterk hopes is a new era of Mizzou basketball.
Martin comes to Columbia with a career winning percentage of 61 percent, six seasons with 20 or more wins, an average of 20.7 wins per year and six postseason tournament appearances in nine years.
Ties to the Midwest
While many in the Midwest may not follow Cal and Pac-12 basketball, Martin’s home for the past three years, his roots and early coaching experience come from the Midwest. Martin was born and raised in East St. Louis before attending Purdue in 1991.
Martin led the Boilermakers to back-to-back Big 10 titles and an elite 8 appearance his senior season. The Atlanta Hawks selected the First Team All-Big 10 player in the second round of the NBA draft. Martin played one year in the league.
While playing overseas in 1997, Martin saw his professional basketball career cut short after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
After his recovery, Martin returned to Purdue as assistant coach in 2000 and remained there until 2008, when he took his first head coaching job at Missouri State in Springfield.
Success at multiple schools
Martin has nine years of head coaching experience at three different schools, with 20 or more wins than losses at every stop.
Martin led the Missouri State Bears to the school’s first Missouri Valley regular season championship in 2011 with a 15-3 conference record.
After a 61-41 record at Missouri State, Martin moved to a power-five school in Tennessee. After two seasons with winning conference records, Martin led the Volunteers all the way to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2014, before falling 73-71 to #2 Michigan.
After a tournament run, Martin ventured westward for Cal. In his second season, Martin helped the Bears earn a four seed in the NCAA tournament after a 23-11 regular season record. The Bears were upset in the first round to Hawaii and narrowly missed the tournament in 2017, after a 21-13 record.
Style of play
As a player, Martin was best known for his defensive toughness and awareness. This shows through his teams, as they traditionally play with a defense first mentality similar to that of Tony Bennett at Virginia. This fits in with the roster Mizzou already has in place, as the Tigers ranked near the top in SEC defense and number one in three-point defense for much of the year.
Martin is also a departure from the often mild-mannered Kim Anderson on the sideline, with more of a frenetic style of coaching.
Martin has brought in upper-echelon talent from across the country wherever he’s gone. Most notably at Cal, Martin signed five-star, McDonald's All-American Jaylen Brown from Georgia, who later became the 3rd overall pick in last year’s NBA draft.
Martin also kept five-star recruit and future first-round pick Ivan Rabb at Cal for two years. While Martin’s players at Cal are unlikely to follow all the way to Columbia, there is a strong chance that a number of Midwest recruits could switch their original decision now that Martin is at Mizzou.
The ties to the St. Louis area and previous relationships with coaches and schools from his time at Missouri State and Tennessee give Martin a leg up on other candidates that might have entered the area cold. No potential recruit is bigger than Michael Porter Jr., a Columbia native who many consider to be the future number one pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
While Martin averages 20 wins or more every year, compared to Mizzou’s average of only 9.3 wins over the past three years, some question how high the ceiling is with Martin. Only one of those nine years featured an NCAA tournament win.
Martin’s offense also worries some, as the slow-paced style can often lead to long stretches of little scoring. It relies heavily on individuals to create shots and make open looks from beyond the arc, something that is harder to do with lower level talent. Recruiting remains vital for Martin, as the talent level at MU needs to rise substantially for his offense to work.
The fact that Martin has never made it to year four at a job also raises some eyebrows, with some wondering if he is only looking to hop from one job to the next. However, each move is an upgrade in many ways. While Cal hasn’t had the recent success of Mizzou, many believe MU is actually a better job, considering the higher pay and money poured into the program, facilities, and proximity to talent with home ties for Martin.
After one of the worst multi-year stretches in Mizzou athletics history, the basketball program is not something that will be fixed overnight. Adding Porter Jr. would inject life back into Mizzou Arena, but the foundation for long-term success will take time to build.
This is why Mizzou and Martin agreed on a contract of at least $3 million per year, with up to seven years total. That’s a substantial, long-term contract for a coach without a deep tournament run on his resume, but it’s also the only way Mizzou could get a coach of Martin’s stature.
Former athletic director Mike Alden hired Kim Anderson, a Division II coach, for only one million dollars. Talent wise, the program is worse off than three years ago, so the price was always going to be significantly higher in order to bring in real upgrade.
This hefty deal likely keeps Martin in Columbia for at least three years, as Sterk and MU donors give their seal of confidence that Martin is the right man to build the program back to the prominence it reached just five years ago.
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