COLUMBIA, Mo. – Cuonzo Martin’s view of the world changed when he had children.
Like many parents, Missouri’s third-year head men’s basketball coach knew his concerns were now seen through the scope of a different lens – one that represented his entire family.
Martin has three kids and celebrated his 24th wedding anniversary with his wife, Roberta, last week.
The 47-year-old Martin knows his job entails a massive time responsibility and his family respects that journey. His career has never deterred the East St. Louis native from making sure his children understand right from wrong while setting them up for success as adults.
Martin doesn’t stop those lessons when he steps into Mizzou Arena. He continues them with his Tiger family.
Although Martin was brought to Columbia to revamp the Missouri program after Kim Anderson picked up just eight Southeastern Conference wins in three seasons on the bench, he sees being at the Tigers’ helm as a teaching role as well.
Martin believes his position should act no different than a high school teacher or college professor.
“There has to be a level of care and compassion to your job when you’re dealing with young men and women. ... You owe it to young men to help them find their way in life and teach more than just simply the basketball game,” Martin said. “Of course, we love to win at the highest level, but in the process, you want to teach life skills and the importance of being a quality student-athlete and eventually become a successful man.”
Over the past month, Martin brought in a tailor between practices to get his players fitted for suits. That’s one of several off-court experiences Martin hopes to provide the Tigers.
Martin sets aside time for non-basketball activities because he wants to set up every athlete who walks through his program for success after they depart – whether basketball is part of their future or not.
Martin values the success of Jontay Porter, projected to be a second-round selection in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, the same as Kevin Puryear.
Both Porter and Puryear’s final season at MU ended in March and while it looks promising for Porter to have a successful NBA career, Puryear decided to go a different route.
Puryear, a Blue Springs South High School graduate, had the chance to pursue a professional basketball contract, but instead he took a full-time job in St. Louis.
Seeing both find success is equally rewarding for Martin.
“I think he wants all of his players to be good people beyond basketball players. I think that’s the reason he goes about that, teaches life lessons because he understands that basketball won’t last forever,” said Marco Harris, the Tigers’ director of player development.
Harris and Martin met when they were about 6 years old growing up across the street from each other.
“I really can’t remember the first day we met, I don’t remember any of that,” Harris said. “Obviously, he must have been cool for me to still be messing with him.”
Their friendship continued onto the basketball team at Lincoln High School where they played alongside former NBA veteran LaPhonso Ellis. Harris also spent time on Martin’s staff at Tennessee and California.
“He’s the same guy to me he was when he was 6 years old,” Harris said about Martin.
Although Martin is the only head coach Harris has ever worked for, Harris believes how Martin acts makes him an everyday person, with no ego or boastfulness because of his career.
“If you didn’t know he was a head coach, you wouldn’t know just by talking to him,” Harris said about Martin. “If you were a stranger and just walked up and talked to him, you would get the same guy.”
It’s a tough task to pull off, but Martin is helped by balancing coaching and family life.
“He has a great partner that helps him out with that, his wife, Roberta, that helps out tremendously,” Harris said. “I don’t think he could do it without Roberta. You got to give her a lot of credit for that, keeping him humble, making sure he takes care of his business as a husband and father. ... She keeps him focused.”
Martin wholeheartedly agrees with that sentiment and as Father’s Day comes and goes, he’ll spend it as another day on his journey juggling his responsibilities on the court and off.
He spends time over the summer on the road recruiting and doing speaking engagements. If possible, Martin likes to end his basketball activities by early afternoon, so he has the evening with his family.
That’s one lesson he definitely wants to pass on to anyone who comes through his program.
“A part of what I do is some of the same stuff I would do with my children – you’re teaching lessons,” Martin said. “I would teach my child this stuff, so I might as well teach (these) guys this.”