Gene Keady saw the signs of a future coach when Cuonzo Martin played for him at Purdue in the 1990s.

The Hall of Fame coach marveled at how Martin took care of halftime adjustments before Keady and his staff got to the locker room.

"I've coached 55 years, and that's the only time anybody did that," Keady said Tuesday after his protege was named Cal's new coach.

Keady and others who have known Martin over the years were effusive in their praise of the man who will replace Mike Montgomery in Berkeley.

Martin, 42, left Tennessee after three years, culminating with leading the Volunteers to the Sweet 16 last month despite fans calling for his ouster earlier in the season.

Martin, who also coached three seasons at Missouri State, lacks the experience of his predecessor but not the intensity. According to those who know him best, Martin is a no-frills, no-fuss coach who gets players to dig deep and give everything they have.

"His players play hard for him because they believe in him," said Kyle Moats, Missouri State athletic director.

"He played with compassion, shares the ball," Keady recalled. "It's about the team, not about him. It's the way we coached at Purdue."

It's the way Martin has carried on the legacy as one of 11 college coaches who either played for Keady or were on his staff.

But Keady, who now helps former protege Steve Lavin at St. John's, won't take much credit for Martin. He recalled how Martin missed all seven 3-pointers during his first two seasons with the Boilermakers before becoming the school's all-time leader by making 179 long-distance shots in his junior and senior seasons.

Martin also made a school-record eight 3-pointers against Kansas in a Sweet 16 game in 1994.

"He knew how precious hard work was," Keady said.

Martin came to Purdue out of a rough neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill. But Keady said Martin's mother had instilled a strong work ethic in her son.

Martin helped Purdue win two consecutive Big Ten titles before the Atlanta Hawks picked him in the second round of the 1995 draft.

He played professionally for four years, with NBA stops in Vancouver and Milwaukee before going to play in Italy.

Shortly after returning from Italy, Martin learned he had a tumor between his heart and lungs. Physicians diagnosed his condition as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a life-threatening blood cancer.

Martin was 26.

The way Martin handled the situation didn't surprise his friends: he stayed positive through a year of treatment.

He has been in remission from the lymphoma since 1998.

"Every day if I don't think about it, then it's a good day for me," Martin once said. "It pops up when I hear about it, read about it. But for me, I take one day at a time. But I don't think it made me a better person. I think it made me understand what's more important."

After the health scare, Martin wasn't sure of his next move. Keady stepped in again. He promised the former player an assistant coaching job if Martin got a degree.

Martin completed his degree in restaurant, hotel, institutional and tourism management in 2000.

He coached under Keady for the next eight years. Also on the staff was former teammate Matt Painter, now Purdue's coach.

"He is an old-school coach who likes to teach and develop players," Painter said Tuesday. "Cuonzo Martin will bring a blue-collar approach that will lead to the continuance of great tradition they have had for many years."

Martin led Missouri State to the postseason in two of his three years there, starting in the 2009-10 season. Then he arrived in Knoxville in 2011 to restore the Vols' program after former coach Bruce Pearl was fired and hit with NCAA sanctions for rules violations.

It seemed the fanbase lost its patience early this season when Tennessee was 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference. Some 36,000 fans signed a petition requesting a coaching change. But the Volunteers ended up being one of the surprise teams of the NCAA Tournament by reaching the Sweet 16.

Although the school announced two weeks ago it was renegotiating Martin's contract, the coach abruptly left Tuesday. The move caught the Vols' athletic community off guard.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said he didn't know Martin was involved in the Cal job until they spoke Tuesday morning.

"We did have a conversation," Hart said in a news conference. He was very emotional. The bottom line is he said in his heart he believed this was best for (him) and his family."

While he is demanding, Martin also emphasizes the players' growth off the court.

"It leaves you really no choice but to play hard for him," said Keith Pickens, a Missouri State senior who will launch his coaching career next season.

"He'll give it to you straight. He just wants you to get better."

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk.