Cuonzo Martin Word for Word

Gabe DeArmond, Publisher
Power Missouri

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Cuonzo Martin was introduced as Mizzou's 19th head basketball coach on Monday. Here is a full transcript of his first press conference.

Opening Statement

"This is a special day for me. It just feels like home. This is one of those days, that as you begin your coaching career, you start thinking, will I ever get an opportunity to coach at a place like Mizzou? Now to be home, just up I-70, is a tremendous feeling. As you all know, I'm a Midwest guy and to be at home amongst family, friends, loved ones and supporters throughout the state of Missouri is a great, great feeling. And before I go any further, one thing I always have to do is introduce my family. And I have a lot of family here. My wife, Roberta, who is basically my right hand and a tremendous supporter. Wonderful lady. My oldest son, Joshua, couldn't be here. He just came off spring break. He attends another University, he attends Purdue University, so he couldn't be here, I imagine he is watching. My other son, Chase. My daughter, Addison, will probably join the gymnastics team. My mom, my brothers, my sisters, my uncles, cousins, it's a tremendous feeling. This is so humbling for me because it feels like this thing has come full circle for me. I'm happy to be here.

"Also I'd like to recognize the people that were very instrumental in me coming here. Chancellor Foley, President Choi, the Board of Curators, Jim (Sterk), please give those guys a hand. I thought they did a tremendous job, very professional and respected the fact I was at another University. I thought they did an exceptional job and I really appreciate that.

"Now we can talk basketball. I grew up watching Mizzou basketball. Norm Stewart, one of my favorites. When you play for Gene Keady, I always watched Norm Stewart. My three favorites: Norm Stewart, Gene Keady and Jim Calhoun. I feel like those guys were tough, hard-nosed, they demanded a lot of their players, worked extremely hard. They competed at a high level, they played with passion. They were tough coaches, often times people call them old school. So I guess I'm an old school coach now. But I loved the way those guys coach the game. But now as we fast forward, I think this is a wonderful place. Great tradition, great history, one of my best friends Melvin Booker played here. Lot of great players that played here. Great facilities. I don't think there's anything that Mizzou's lacking. I think we have everything to be very successful. I think we have everything to be the last team standing one day. And that's my goal.

"The things that we have to do to be successful, everybody talks recruiting, but that part is understood when you talk about recruiting student-athletes. But for me it's more than that. We got to have guys that understand the passion to be a part of this program, guys that want to be successful not only on the basketball floor, but in the classroom. I mean very successful. Not just to say I got a degree, but to have a successful career. I think that is most important and those are things that I learned along the way. My mom talked about that as a youth, but I didn't really understand what it meant at that time. But now as a man, the importance of being successful and really trying to make our guys understand, not just basketball but in life. My goal for all of our players is 20-30 years down the road to be successful men. The other step for us is in the community. We have to do a great job in the community. Look at this right now, I'm at a place like this, a reception like this. Give yourselves a hand. I appreciate that.

"The one thing I want you all to know as you attend today, in order for great programs to be successful, of course you need good basketball players who want to be part of a great program, but you need a great fanbase. We need everybody on board. Even those tough times, we need everybody on board. Understand, our staff will do everything in our power to be successful, work to the midnight hour to be successful and we won't stop until we're the last team standing. That's a goal of mine if it's done the right way with a high level of character and integrity. So you'll be proud as a fan with our staff and our players because we'll do everything in our power to represent the right way. It's not just what we do on the court, it's also what we do in life because we're part of this community. I told our guys, like it or not, you're a part of the community and we have to make it work together. Even on those bad days, when you think I made a bad call or bad play, stick with me cause we're family and that's how we become successful.

"And again, just to have an opportunity, a lot of coaches have come through here, but just to have an opportunity to coach on the floor that Norm Stewart coached on, even though it's a different arena, but just to be in his presence because of what he meant and what he represented, how hard his guys played, and I think his number 22 is retired. I wore number 22 at Purdue. That's probably why they gave me number one because he's the only guy that can wear number 22 around here so they let me take the number one. He'd probably beat me in one on one. Again, this is a tremendous opportunity for me. I'm grateful for everything and I appreciate everything and I would like to open it up for any questions."

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Lexi Churchill

What about this job and this place compared to the other places you coached is a place that you could see yourself for a long time and establish some roots?

"My wife and I weighed all the pros and cons. Outside of being close to home, I just felt like it's a great place. I felt like you can be the last team standing here with the fanbase, the tradition, the history. You're the state school, so to speak, so I think you have a lot of things to be very successful. Being close to home was probably the last thing when we weight the pros and cons. I just felt like it's a great place with great support and I think the administrative piece was also key for me. Cause I want to work with good people. In those bad days, you have to be around good people, in my opinion and I think we have a great group of people here."

How do you remember Norm Stewart's recruitment of you? Did you make a visit here?

"I didn't make an official visit but I came on campus several times. We didn't have anybody from East St. Louis on the basketball team when I was in high school, but we had several guys on the football team. Also guys that I grew up with that went to school here, students. So we had some good times here. But they recruited me. They came to East St. Louis. My high school, I love him, Bennie Lewis, a great man, but he wanted me to go somewhere else. It was great. I thought they did a great job. They recruited me, yes."

For those us who have not seen your teams play, can you describe your teams' style?

"What we like to do, we like to play extremely hard. The one thing we talk about all the time is to play unselfishly, play together. Defend, rebound and play as hard as you can play. Often times that's easier said than done. I think you look at our defense, we're probably top ten or eleven in the country every year. We take pride in that. Offensively, we put guys in the NBA, but a lot of that has to do with your skill level. My job as a coach offensively is to put you in position to be successful. I tell guys all the time I haven't shot a basketball for 20 years. So my job is to put you in position to be a successful basketball player. The things that we cannot compromise are defending and rebounding and playing hard."

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Lexi Churchill

You mentioned this being a job you've had your eye on in the past and your name came up here a couple times.  What made this time the right time with this job and when did it become reality that it was falling into place?

"Every opportunity I've had as a coach I felt like that was an opportunity to do my job. The most important thing is you're hired to do a job. Do the job to the best of your ability. It wasn't like I was seeking opportunities, but when this came about, when it presented itself, I just felt like for me this is probably it for me. If Mizzou keeps me for 20 years, then it's my plan to be here for 20 years. This is it for me."

Can you give us a timeline on when things became serious with Missouri?

"Out of respect, I really respect the way Mizzou went about it because often times there's a lot of conversations that take place behind the scenes and people calling, which if you're occupied with another job, they shouldn't call. So again, whatever they did behind the scenes, then obviously my representation, probably the last week or so, they made the decision that this is an option. For me, maybe my wife did, but I don't get caught up in what's on social media, I don't read any press clippings, so I was just doing my job coaching the team. Then when they presented it, again, just an opportunity I couldn't pass up. All the things worked out right and it just so happened to be at home. Even if it wasn't at home, everything was great. But now it's close to home."

Going back to Springfield and your first job as a head coach, what did you learn about winning championships?

"I thought it was a tough job. To be totally honest with you, anybody out there that wants to get into coaching, don't do it. I felt that was the toughest thing for me as a coach our first year at Missouri State. Wonderful people, great place, but I thought it was extremely tough because it was my first year as a head coach, so many unknowns. Often times we have all the answers as assistant coaches and then you move over to that one seat and there was not many people I could communicate with. Because you're the boss, you're supposed to have all the answers, everything is supposed to be right. We won 11 games that first year and I thought it was tough. You have to fight, you have to work, you have to be around good people and then for me, even in choosing a staff, you have to have people that you can lose with. What I mean by that, of course nobody wants to lose so I'm not saying that, but on those bad days, we have to have a great relationship to push forward. Often times when you're building a champion you have rough patches here and there so I've got to be around good people."

What were your takeaways about the Southeastern Conference after coaching three years at Tennessee?

"It's a great league. Three teams in the Sweet 16 right now. The one thing I thought when I was in the SEC before, I didn't think the league got the credit it deserved as far as the basketball piece. Often times, they would say because the football was so big they didn't value basketball. But you've got great coaches here, a lot of guys that played professional basketball, it was a physical league. I just think it's a great league. I really do and I think the fan support, great locations. I think for any league, you want play in a league where multiple teams play in the NCAA Tournament because everybody has a chance to have success and as you see you've got three teams in the Sweet 16."

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Lexi Churchill

Have you had an opportunity to talk with the current players?  Just tell us what your impressions are.

"Wonderful young men. I talked to them probably about an hour ago, obviously great guys. I don't want to get into specifics of what we talked about, but the biggest key is if losing basketball games, if that's the worst thing they'll go through in life, they'll live a great life. They're successful men. Coach Kim can coach. Stuff happens, man. And then all of a sudden, my wife says all the time, losing's mental. We have to get better as a program and as a team, but great guys. My thing with those guys, I said to them, hold your head high, have character, have integrity and we'll get where we need to go. For me, to understand where they are, you have to walk a certain way. Don't allow losing to dictate how you move and walk as a young man."

Your previous job at Missouri State and Tennessee, how much do you think that will help you acclimate to Missouri?

"Like I said to the guys, I said we all have a new slate here. I don't know what the record was or what have you last year. They lost a lot of close games. Anytime you beat Vanderbilt by 20, then stuff happens, that means you're good enough. We've got to improve our confidence. We've got to get bigger, stronger, faster and all those things, but there's work to be done. I haven't looked at anybody in the league and what they have or don't have. I'm consumed with our team. I think we have a chance to be successful. I'm not in the business of waiting four years. We have to work to get it done. Because if you're physical enough to do it, we've got to get it done and I don't think there's any ifs ands or buts about it."

I know it's day one, but can you kind of prioritize your next few weeks as far as getting to know the roster, recruiting and hiring a staff?

"I'll be in tears throughout the night because my family's going back till my kids get out of school so I'll be here solo working which is always fine because those first three weeks will be just hit the ground running. You actually forget where you're sleeping at sometimes because you're just moving. I pretty much will be out in the Midwest just recruiting. First and foremost, I'll meet with the players tomorrow or the next day and after that it's just hit the ground running."

What is your philosophy on recruiting as far as recruiting your local area and recruiting nationally?

"The one thing I try to stay away from is cliches and soundbites to make it sound good. I try to be as sincere as possible, but Mizzou is not just a national brand, it's a world brand. So when we recruit, we're not just recruiting in the United States, we're recruiting across the world. I think we have to understand that and get the right student-athletes to fit what we're trying to do. Those two guys you mentioned, that was about a relationship. One of them I knew when he was 14, obviously the guy was a local guy. Just working extremely hard, building relationships and helping them see what we have to offer. This is a great place. And again, one of the things I want everybody, as fans, it's very important that we understand this piece: When recruits see our basketball brand on TV, when they come to campus, when this arena's filled up, it helps me do my job."

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Lexi Churchill

What do you see on the Missouri high school basketball scene?

"Per NCAA rules, I can't speak specifically about an individual, but it's great basketball. When I grew up in East St. Louis, we had our battles on this side of the river. Guys now, coaches, friends of mine, throughout the state tremendous basketball, great coaching. Not only that, great summer league coaches. But I think throughout the Midwest, there's a lot of good basketball. For us, we want to start in the state first and foremost, but we've got to go across the world to get ballplayers."

Did you seek out any counsel from other people when looking at the Missouri job or was it pretty much a personal decision?

"Truthfully, my counsel because it happened so quickly, was my wife to be totally honest with you. So give her a lot of credit for that."

You've talked about integrity and some of the other expectations.  What were your conversations with Chancellor Foley and other people about the academic standards and the other factors?

"Again, for me I ask questions. It's part of my job. I read the news when stuff is presented to me. When I was at Missouri State, if I'm not mistaken, we graduated eight out of nine. When I was at Tennessee, eleven out of eleven. When we were at Cal, probably be ten out of ten. I don't consume myself with what took place if I wasn't involved in it. My job is to do what we need to do right now. I always look at that as an excuse. Look at what took place, try to figure out a way to move forward. I just try not to consume myself with anything negative, anything that slows me down. Pushing forward, I asked questions about what has taken place and now we have to make progress and move forward."

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