East St. Louis Native Cuonzo Martin Becomes 19th Head Coach In Missouri Basketball History
A basketball legend from just over the river has officially taken over the reigns of the men’s basketball program at the University of Missouri. Cuonzo Martin was introduced as the Mizzou men’s basketball program’s 19th head coach earlier this week.
Martin takes over for Kim Anderson, who was let go after three seasons running the program.
Martin comes to Mizzou after compiling a 62-39 record over three seasons at the University of California. Before coaching the Golden Bears, Martin spent three seasons each coaching at Tennessee and Missouri State.
Over nine seasons as a head coach, Martin has a 186-121 cummulative record with two NCAA Tournament apperances and three in the National Invitational Tournament. Before being named the head coach at Missouri State back in 2008, Martin spent eight seasons as an asssitant coach at Purdue under coach Gene Keady who he previously played for.
Growing Up In East St. Louis
Cuonzo Martin grew up in a housing project in East St. Louis, Illinois. To be specific, Martin and his siblings were raised in ‘Da Hole,” the Norman Owens Projects. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, of Olympic track and field fame, grew up a mile away and speaks fondly of Martin. Cuonzo starred on two state championship teams at Lincoln High and still has close ties to the area. Those ties will prove to be important at Missouri.
After playing his college ball at Purdue, Marin was drafted into the NBA in 1995 by the Atlanta Hawks. After making it to the NBA, Martin had a bigger fight to take on.
Cuonzo Martin was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1997. He told the San Francisco Gate back in 2015 that he remembers the prognosis he got from doctors was not good.
“I can’t remember what the stages were, and I didn’t want to know,” said Martin, now 43. “But I do remember my oncology doctor said it was similar to Shaquille O’Neal shooting free throws. Those were the chances.”
On April 21, 1998, Cuonzo Martin went through his last cancer treatment. His cancer has been in remission since then.
His coaching career started shortly after that. Those eight seasons at Purdue. Becoming a head coach at Missouri State and being named the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2011. Three seasons not being Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. Three seasons at Cal, which included recruting 2016 NBA lottery pick Jaylen Brown and likely first rounder Ivan Rabb.
Now Sandra Martin, the single mother that raised Cuonzo and his three siblings in “Da Hole,” has her son coaching NCAA Division 1 basketball just a short drive away. Sandra lives in downtown St. Louis these days, just a two-hour drive from Mizzou Arena.
“Momma, I Think I’m Coming Home”
Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sought out Ms. Martin after her son’s introductory press conference on Monday. In his column today he has the story of her son calling to say he was heading home.
“She was so happy,” he said. “She just said, ‘Whatever you want to do.’ I just said, ‘Momma, I think I’m coming home.’ I heard a pause on the phone. What’s going on? You’re talking about (a mother) 60-plus years old.
“My mom’s seen a lot. My mom’s been through a lot; it’s a great feeling for her and my family.”
The entire Martin clan was in attendance on Monday in Columbia. Siblings Dale, Valencia and Jamikka joined mom for the drive west. All three live in the St. Louis area with their families.
It’s not just within the Martin family that emotions are running high. Things are at a level within the Mizzou basektball that hasn’t been reached in quite a few seasons. This is a program that has seen more ups and downs than a Six Flags season pass holder since Norm Stewart retired in March of 1999.
From Quinn To Kim
The hiring of young Duke assistant Quinn Snyder and his seasons that included an Elite Eight run and Ricky Clemons. The dedication of Paige Sports Arena and its renaming as Mizzou Arena. “Suitcase” Mike Anderson. The 2012 Big 12 Tournament Championship under Frank Haith. A loss to a team whose name I will not type. NCAA sanctions stemming from seasons under Haith.
The list goes on.
Most recently, Mizzou is coming off three seasons under Kim Anderson. The former Tigers assistant coach and “True Son” was brought on after winning a national championship and National Coach of the Year honors with Division II Central Missouri in 2014.
Unfortunately, Anderson did not find success as the Tigers head coach. He went 27-68 over the last three seasons, including a 8-24 record this past season. It’s rumored that Anderson will soon be announced as the new head coach of Division II Pittsburg State.
While Cuonzo Martin didn’t play for Missouri and thus doesn’t have that “True Son” tag, his hiring has Missouri basketball fans optimistic. Martin is very well-respected in the St. Louis basketball community and is seen as someone that can mend fences that have mostly been in poor condition since the days of Norm and Floyd Irons.
Optimism Runs High Among Mizzou Faithful
East St. Louis High’s Jeremiah Tilmon is seen as a recruit, that while committed to Illinois, could be looking at Mizzou under Martin. Mark Smith of Edwardsville, a former Mizzou baseball commit, is another recruit that Tiger fans have their eye on.
The name that has the hearts of Tiger fans aflutter Is Michael Porter Jr. The #1 recruit in the nation is committed to Washington, but that is likely to change with the firing of Lorzenzo Romar and the hiring of Mike Hopkins. He also has just a few connections to Mizzou basketball and Columbia, Missouri.
But that’s a story for another time.
Cuonzo Martin will coach his first game as the head coach of the University of Missouri men’s basketball team at Mizzou Area in November.
It will hopefully be the start of a long successful chapter, both for coach Martin and a program that traces its roots back to 1906.
“If Mizzou keeps me for 20 years, then it’s my plan to be here for 20 years, this is it for me.” – Cuonzo Martin March 20, 2017
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