When the Kansas-Missouri charity exhibition game was announced last Friday, Jayhawks coach Bill Self said he initiated the idea by calling Cuonzo Martin to get the ball rolling.
At SEC Tipoff on Wednesday, Martin, in his first year as Missouri’s men’s basketball coach, didn’t let Self get all the credit for himself.
“Bill and I just coming together felt like it would be a tremendous opportunity to raise money,” Martin told reporters. “It wasn’t so much about two teams playing and competing, that sort of thing. That’s a bonus in my opinion. Just two teams coming together to raise revenue for some families that have been hit in a tough way.”
Martin said both he and Self did not discuss the idea of making the game an annual event in the regular season but Martin said the fact that tickets sold out in minutes shows the energy is rich in both fanbases. Proceeds from the game will go to hurricane victims.
Kansas and Missouri are slated to tip off at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City and Martin said his staff has already began to discuss how to prep for it. An early idea among both teams is the allowance of more fouls per player to eliminate foul trouble.
Martin, from East St. Louis, Ill., said he remembers the rivalry growing up and he grew close with Missouri legend Melvin Booker and Kansas’ Steve Woodberry after their college careers and heard their memories from the games.
Martin said he plans to treat the game like any other but cautioned fans expectations. While the Jayhawks enter the season as national title contenders and Missouri as NCAA Tournament hopefuls, the quality of basketball could be affected with both teams only a few weeks into practice.
“I don’t think either team will be clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “To expect to see a team that you would probably see in December or January, I don’t think you’ll see anything like that.”
Cuonzo on Tennessee
Martin is back in the SEC after leaving Tennessee for California in 2014, when he led the Volunteers to the Sweet 16.
That breakup wasn’t clean. More than 30,000 people signed a petition to replace Martin with his predecessor in Knoxville, now-Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, before Martin left for California.
On Wednesday, Martin avoided any controversy. He said he did not feel any relief that a trip to Knoxville isn’t on Missouri’s schedule this season. He said he just didn’t care.
Asked what it will be like to coach against Tennessee when the Volunteers come to Columbia on Jan. 17, Martin said, “I’ll know when we get there.”
“They’re a talented team,” he said. “(Rick) Barnes is obviously a Hall of Fame level coach. … For me it’s just another game. I had a tremendous experience. I learned a lot. But it’s just a game. We’ll deal with that when we get to it.”
The media picked Missouri to finish fifth in the SEC, which Martin said is “probably the best it’s been in 20 years, talking about top to bottom talent.”
Last season, five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament, four reached the round of 32 and South Carolina, not a traditional power, made the Final Four. Martin said that should help the reputation of SEC basketball going forward.
“When you talk about a brand and a league, you have to include everybody,” Martin said. “I think that’s what makes leagues great.”
Harris back to 100 percent
Freshman point guard Blake Harris was limited over the summer because of a broken wrist. Martin said he’s fully recovered.
“He’s playing well,” he said. “He’s fast with the ball. He’s big — you talk about 6-3, 195 (pounds) as a point guard as a true freshman, and he moves with the ball.”
Junior forward Kevin Puryear listed Harris as player who could surprise fans this year. He said the same about graduate transfer Kassius Robertson.
“Blake Harris really has the tools to defensive player of the year in the SEC,” Puryear said. “He’s a pest when it comes to guarding the ball. He’s extremely talented. Has made jumps on his jump shot from the time he stepped on campus.”
Harris, originally committed to Washington, joined Missouri after Porter Jr. decided to play for the Tigers.
Porter Jr. called center Jeremiah Tilmon, at one point an Illinois commit from East St. Louis, “a certified pro.”
“He will be an NBA player one day for sure,” Porter Jr. said of the 6-10 Tilmon. “And I don’t think it will be long before that happens. He can do everything.”
Cuonzo’s NBA players
Michael Porter Jr. isn’t the first highly-touted freshman Martin has coached. He had both Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb at California. Both are now in the NBA and Brown scored 25 points for the Celtics in his season debut against the Cavaliers last night. Martin said coaching Brown and Rabb have helped him handle Porter’s situation.
“It helps a great deal,” Martin said. “Everything you go through you learn valuable lessons. Jaylen had a great game last night. You get a gauge. Because what happens in my opinion, going through it before, when those guys are considered elite level at that age. They’ve been dealt with differently than a guy that’s not a ranked guy or a guy that has to work so hard. They’ve had access behind the scenes, all those things, when they come into your house they’re still 18 or 19 and there’s a lot that goes with that. Guys that will be pros we’ll put them in position to be pros. We didn’t make Jaylen Brown or Ivan Rabb. At some point they’ll be there.”
Making it to March Madness
Porter took questions on how past No. 1 picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz failed to lead their teams to the NCAA Tournament. He said the question has become a regular one, as has his answer.
“My answer is the same every time,” Porter said. “I feel like I have more around me than those guys had. I have tons of incomers who are crazy talented coming in with me. I feel like I have a ton of supporting cast so I don’t really have pressure on my shoulders. We do make a run it won’t really because of me it will be because of the whole team.”
St. Louis barbecue?
Junior forward Kevin Puryear responded to Martin’s comments on St. Louis barbecue, after he recently joked that he prefers it to Kansas City’s.
Puryear, a Blue Springs native, said that he’ll likely won’t discuss the topic with Martin but didn’t even know that St. Louis was known for barbecue until hearing about his coach’s comments.
“I didn’t even know St. Louis BBQ was a thing,” he said. “I’m going to let Coach Martin win that one. Everybody that’s been to Kansas City knows that Kansas City BBQ is better. St. Louis BBQ, that’s new to me. Maybe I don’t go to St. Louis enough but I’ll have to go to St. Louis and try it.”