More than anything, it makes Cuonzo Martin, 42, feel “a lot older.” That makes Gene Keady, 77, laugh.
“I feel real old,” the former Purdue coach countered over the phone Tuesday.
Around this time 20 years ago Keady was storming the sidelines while a young Cuonzo Martin helped lead the Boilermakers to a Big Ten conference championship and an appearance in the NCAA tournament’s Elite 8. That postseason run included an 83-78 win against Kansas at Thompson-Boling Arena, a game in which Martin made eight 3-pointers and scored 29 points.
“I didn’t know any of that,” Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said Tuesday. “He never talks about when he played.”
But even Richardson knows who his coach played alongside during those glory days, and why it’s been a much discussed topic as of late.
“He did mention that he played with Glenn Robinson,” Richardson said.
Now Martin will coach against Glenn ‘The Big Dog’ Robinson’s son, Glenn Robinson III.
“It’s really an amazing story,” Keady said. “I know he will have mixed emotions about it. But he’s got to try to beat him.”
No. 11 seed Tennessee (24-12) plays No. 2 seed Michigan (27-8) on Friday (7:15 p.m. EDT) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The winner goes to the Elite 8, where it will play either No. 8 seed Kentucky or No. 4 seed Louisville.
More than simply making a nice story, the Vols’ crossing of paths with Robinson III raises a big question. How will UT, a team that relies heavily on two traditional forwards, fare against Michigan, a team that usually plays with one big man, three guards and Robinson III, an athletic wing who runs and dunks and shoots from the outside. He averages 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“He is a great kid, and his family has done a great job of raising him,” Martin said Tuesday. “I am happy for him and the success he is having. I don’t want him to play well on Friday, but he is a good kid.”
Martin recruited Robinson III while he was the head coach at Missouri State, and wished him well on his invitation to the Wolverines. By the time he took the job in Knoxville in March of 2011, the son of his friend and former teammate was off the board, committed. Life moved on. The only time Martin saw Robinson III was when he watched the Big Ten network at his house. Now he’s hoping UT senior forward Jeronne Maymon can lock the Michigan sophomore down.
“I’ve had quite a few questions asked of me — all around the country, media outlets — about the matchup between Glen Robinson III and Jeronne Maymon,” Martin said Wednesday on the Knoxville News Sentinel Sports Page. “I guess they assume that’s who will guard each other.”
Then he dropped his bluff.
“Going into the game, Jeronne will be guarding him,” Martin said. “You’re talking about one of the toughest guys in the SEC, in my opinion in the country, in Jeronne Maymon. A guy that is a sound defender, that understands how to play. That was never an issue for us, on who Jeronne Maymon will guard.”
Who has the advantage depends on whom you ask.
“For them, they think they have a mismatch with Glenn and Jeronne,” UT guard Jordan McRae said. “We also think we have a mismatch with Jeronne and Glenn. It will be interesting to see what they do.”
Maymon (6-8, 260) is one of UT’s two bruise brothers, a name that’s been tagged to the Jarnell Stokes-Maymon duo as the Vols have progressed through the NCAA tournament. You can find him down low; hoop-math.com tells us he shoots 72.9 percent of his shots within a couple of feet of the rim. He’s taken one 3-pointer all season. It didn’t go in.
Robinson III (6-6, 220) roams. Only 24.2 percent of his shots are taken at the basket. Often, those come in transition or via lob passes. Forty-three percent of his shots are two-point jumpers. And while he doesn’t shoot 3-pointers that well (28.6 percent), 24 percent of his shots come from behind the arc.
“We switch one through four regardless of who we are playing,” Maymon said. “So, they’ve got a four man that can shoot. We switch one through four anyway. I’m usually guarding guards anyway.”
“I think that’s actually easier to guard,” he added. “I’m not sure how many guards they have that can actually get to the hole and finish. Guarding shooters is just trying to chase them off the line.”
Maymon is confident.
So is his coach.
“If Jeronne Maymon is the question, no doubt in my mind,” Martin said. “I’m going to war with Jeronne Maymon any day of the week.”