Cuonzo Martin was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers as he stepped onto the court at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday night — par for the course for a Vols fan base with mixed emotions about its former coach.
Martin coached Tennessee from 2011 to 2014 and led the team to the Sweet 16 in his final year before taking the head coaching job at California. Tennessee hasn’t gone that deep in the NCAA Tournament since Martin departed, but the end of his tenure was marked by a fan petition to get him fired and the limiting of his recruiting resources by boosters.
Martin took the high road after Tuesday’s 72-60 loss to the top-ranked Vols. He said he had nothing but a positive experience during his return.
“It felt pretty good just to be back,” Martin said. “It was good emotions for me. It was.”
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Missouri’s coach estimated that it had been roughly five years since he had been in Knoxville. He said his decision to leave Tennessee “was just a matter of me doing what was best for me.”
Martin was greeted by fans and UT staffers before the game and during MU’s second-half warmups. After the game, he took pictures with ushers who waited outside of Missouri’s locker room to see him. He went on to credit the Tennessee media for preparing him to deal with greater scrutiny.
Tennessee posted a graphic of Martin on its video board before the game thanking him for his time in Knoxville. And current Vols coach Rick Barnes praised and defended him in for his time in Knoxville.
“I’m not sure he was treated here the way he should have been treated,” Barnes said. “If my son ever wanted to play for him, that’d be the person I’d want him to play for.”