Plenty has changed since the last time Missouri’s head men’s basketball coach spoke with a large group of reporters in Columbia.
The last time that occurred was on March 10, two days before the Tigers were supposed to start the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville against Texas A&M.
MU traveled to Nashville and practiced inside Bridgestone Arena before its soon-to-be-canceled matchup with the Aggies.
Less than 24 hours after that practice, the tournament was canceled. Then the sports world came to a standstill as dozens of other events were postponed or called off because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, Martin is attempting to put everything in place for a successful 2020-2021 season while practicing social distancing.
Here’s the highlights from the conversation with Martin. It has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: How have you handled everything since you arrived in Nashville?
Martin: "I think like everybody from a basketball standpoint, I would have liked to finish the season, but I also think, health and safety is first and foremost. Unfortunately with a virus, the deaths and hysteria has caused the loss of jobs. All of that is a bad thing but I think if there's a positive, everybody has an opportunity with their families to strengthen relationships in your household or renew them so to speak.
"Since I've been doing this as a profession, I got in 2000, and it's been going 90 miles an hour since 2000. In our sport, you kind of have to make your vacation time just to have the opportunity with family and it's been great for me. Just to be around my children, my son and my wife, that part has been good. I think it's just a case of we’re learning something new.
"So, like I say to our guys, if you're out playing five-on-five, you have to be very careful because I know if I was 18 to 22 years old, I would have probably been in somebody's gym ... So, I think our guys need to understand the importance of this is real life. It's one thing to work on your own or work with your trainer, but you have to be very careful. So again, a lot of learning lessons and hopefully not painful lessons."
Q: How much has the impact of COVID-19 changed your approach to recruiting?
Martin: "I think most guys were already in the ballpark of what schools that they like. So, I think the tough part is if you haven't visited that particular school, now how does that work? For example, I'm shooting a video at noon. Just so a virtual video of our program, campus and all those sorts of things. It’d be different for me, but I'm looking forward to it."
Q: Do you know if you’ll be allowed to have players on-campus for workouts over the summer with MU moving all classes to online for that period of time?
Martin: "We don't know yet about the workouts. We just had a Zoom call the other day (with his players) and that was one of the biggest questions that those guys asked about, because I said there's a possibility that we won't have a summer session. And that was the next thing. Will we still be able to work out?
"So, that part is tough because the one thing about players, though we don't like to admit it, we all crave the discipline and the structure of the day-to-day workouts and a regimen. So, now you're talking about guys having accountability among themselves to be able to do that on an everyday basis, which is a hard thing to do."
Q: Cuonzo, how did your interactions with the team go once you left for Nashville until the tournament was canceled?
Martin: "I have to admit, I watch the news when I have to. So, I didn't have a lot of information on the virus outside of what I heard, just snippets of it on the news. So, I didn't understand the magnitude of (coronavirus). But in the back of my mind, especially when they said we were going to keep the fans out unless it's close family, staff members, then I'm sitting there thinking ‘We're still humans as players and coaches. So, I would assume it could affect us, unless you're just a supreme athlete, it won't affect you’ and I wasn’t one of those guys.
"At that point I didn't understand, because I didn't have a lot of information about the virus. So that was my biggest concern, and that Thursday morning, I think (Missouri play-by-play announcer) Mike Kelly and I were talking about should they play games, and that was one thing I said: ‘I just don't understand how you can remove fans, but the players are still playing the game and interacting and making contact with each other.’ And I'm happy they made the decision that they made."
Q: Last week, the NCAA made a decision to not give winter sports student-athletes another year of eligibility. What did you think of that decision?
Martin: "I agree with it. I would have loved to coach Reed (Nikko) again, I would have loved that. Kobe Brown for example, he said he learned a lot from Reed because they were roommates on the road. So, just the maturity and stuff that he learned from Reed. So, I would have loved to have him back for another year. And it's not as if there were 20-plus games lost in the season."
Q: What is it like with Xavier Pinson, Jeremiah Tilmon and Mitchell Smith going through the NBA Draft process because the league doesn’t know what it’s doing moving forward?
Martin: "There’s no changes have been made as of now ... The way (Pinson) especially finished down a stretch. I think it's a really good idea for him because going into the season, I talked to X about one or two players that you want to learn from, you want to mimic games and one name I brought up with X is Ja Morant. X is a young guy for his age, he's an athlete, similar frames. So, there's a lot of growth in his game. So, for a guy like that to have those opportunities, I think it'd be great, especially when he's able to get into those camps and showcase some things …
"Jeremiah, I want him to really do it and he wanted to do it himself ...
"For Mitch, I thought he did a great job down the stretch of rebounding. I've always felt like he had a desire to play defense, to play hard. But for Mitch, I felt like this is something I think he needed to experience."
Q: Cuonzo, when you’re trying to sell the program to recruits and you can’t have them on campus, how do you go about showing them the facilities and everything?
Martin: "We started doing FaceTime. When I talk to our guys, it was always a call or a text ... I would say probably two weeks ago is when I really started FaceTime. I never did FaceTime outside of with my wife or my daughter something like that. But I started doing FaceTime ... I think it's a good way to communicate with recruits, allow them to get a good feel for you. I was recruiting one guy and I had my shades on, they were $10 shades. I didn’t know if he was laughing because they looked cheap. But he got a kick out of it and he liked it and it was a different side of me ... I'm different when you see me outside of my element. When most people see me, I'm a different guy I assume with my demeanor when I coach and when you see me off the court."