BERKELEY -- There's no telling whether Cuonzo Martin will actually pan out as the men's basketball coach at Cal. But his hiring, announced out of nowhere Tuesday, signals an important goal has been established in the athletic department.
Make Cal basketball a perennial force.
"Why not?" AD Sandy Barbour said. "Why not?"
Cal basketball can be, should be, a formidable program. In the Pac-12. In the nation. Anything less is a failure in decision making or a shortcoming in desire. The ingredients are here for Cal to be regulars in the NCAA tournament and prone to a deep run here and there.
Step 1 was hiring the guy to lead the program in that direction. By most accounts, Cal made out all right by landing Martin -- choosing him over Eric Musselman, UC Irvine's Russell Turner and current assistant Travis DeCuire.
Martin's already got a few good indicators he'll be good for the gig. Perhaps the biggest came in the form of a tweet.
A day after announcing he was taking his talents to Tennessee, 7-footer Kingsley Okoroh tweeted he was following Martin to Cal. He's no blue-chip prospect, but the English-born big man's commitment to Martin speaks to the coach's recruiting ability.
And that's where the battle to make Cal a big-time program will be won or lost.
"The Bay Area has a tremendous amount of talent," Martin said. "You've got to protect your home base ... If local talent is there, you want to get it. Certainly local talent is here, so you want to do everything in your power to keep the guys home."
Martin is no doubt a presence. He comes off as smooth in demeanor and yet demanding in tone. Most important, he's got a story. The kind of story that makes parents and guardians and recruits feel something.
He played big time college basketball, alongside Glenn Robinson at Purdue, and got his degree. He's heard his name called in the draft, and subsequently played overseas after a seven-game NBA career. He's a cancer survivor, his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has been in full remission since the late 90s.
And last month, he added a Sweet 16 berth to his resume -- after 36,000 people signed a petition to oust him as the coach of Tennessee. The cherry on top after stabilizing a Vols program that Bruce Pearl left mangled by the NCAA.
That's the kind of story that works in the living room of touted recruits.
Martin's message of family, community and education pricked the ears of Cal's selection committee. It sounds as if the same message won over the incumbent players, namely the freshmen who lobbied for the school to hire DeCuire.
Former Salesian High star Jabari Bird said he expects guys will stay at Cal and play for Martin.
It took 15 days to find the new coach, in a search sources say was anything but smooth. They overreached for some candidates. They turned down some other intriguing ones. They wrestled with philosophy and focus.
Maybe all that needed to happen because the direction and hope of the program has been unclear for sometime. In the end, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Barbour emerged from the fray having settled on one guy: Martin.
It wasn't the safe pick. It wasn't a stopgap. It wasn't the splashy choice. But it was a choice that suggests Cal might be ready to take the program to another level. The level it belongs.
Now let's see if they were right.