Too many question marks for judgment on Vol players
Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2011 7:02 pm
By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee has done all the right things in preparation for the 2011-12 season. Now it’s time for new coach Cuonzo Martin to learn just what the Volunteers can do on the court.
There’s still a lot of unknowns for a very new-looking Vols squad as it heads into Friday night’s season opener against North Carolina-Greensboro. That’s OK with Martin, who knows it will take time to find out who the leaders and go-to players are.
“I think there’s so many unknowns because you have to go through with it in order to find out where you are as a team because you have to hit that tough spot, that rough patch where all of a sudden you’ve lost a couple games. How do guys respond? Then you kind of see where guys are in the locker room and who’s still leading.”
Tennessee could hit that rough patch early.
After hosting UNC-Greensboro and Louisiana-Monroe, the Vols travel to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, where they’ll face No. 6 Duke on Nov. 21.
The tournament field also includes No. 11 Memphis, No. 13 Kansas, No. 17 UCLA and No. 18 Michigan among others.
Though Martin doesn’t yet know how his players respond to the challenges of facing top-notch opponents, he got a good taste of how they’ll handle adversity in an exhibition game on Monday against Lincoln Memorial, ranked second in a national Division II poll.
The Vols led by 23 points with 17:30 to go when the Railsplitters’ shooting heated up. A 3-pointer by LMU’s Cam Carden cut Tennessee’s lead to 64-60 with 7:09 left.
But instead of the Vols falling apart, like they did so many times last season under similar circumstances, they came up with defensive stops and got the ball into the hot-handed shooters to finish with a 76-67 victory.
“I think the next phase for our guys is once again, continuing to go through the fire, learning from each other,” Martin said. “I thought it was a great lesson in the second half against the LMU team to really see guys step up and really make individual plays, really make defensive plays.”
Tennessee benefited during its two exhibition games from strong play by sophomore point guard Trae Golden, who has learned to speak up and distribute the ball better under Martin’s tutelage.
Golden averaged 43.8 percent 3-point shooting and 18 points during the two preseason games while logging 13 assists and just one turnover in a total 59 minutes played.
The Vols have also become closer away from the practice and playing court, junior guard Skylar McBee said.“We’re all hanging out together, and I think that really plays a role,” McBee said.
“You’ve got to be friends with the guys off the court. It’s so much easier to relate on the court when you know you’ve got each other’s backs on and off the court.”
It’s also helped the Tennessee players do the right things away from basketball. They’ve stayed out of trouble and committed to their studies, just as Martin has expected them to do.
“I think those guys know that we’ve been under the radar, so to speak, and that means not breaking any laws, not getting into any trouble,” Martin said. “That’s a good thing for a program.”
Published in The Messenger 11.10.11