published Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Almost all about basketball Vols is new

The identification placard placed in front of the Tennessee men's basketball player read "Cameron Tatum," though his large, black-rimmed glasses made him look much more like Spike Lee or the television character Steve Urkel.

"Just wanted something different, a studious look," the fifth-year senior said when asked about the specs during last Thursday's SEC basketball media day. "Just wanted something new."

Pretty much everything is new with the Vols these days, from first-year coach Cuonzo Martin on down.

For the first time in seven seasons the fan favorite Bruce Pearl will no longer sweat through gray suits and bright orange sport coats along the UT bench, his career abruptly and bizarrely cut short because he lied to the NCAA about secondary recruiting violations.

Gone, too, is Pearl's wide-open playing style, which focused on forcing turnovers in the backcourt and scoring bunches of points, especially from the 3-point line.

"I knew the very first day that things were going to be different," said Tatum, who has more than twice as many Division I career starts (43) as the other Volunteers combined (21).

"The first day of [spring] practice we played nothing but defense. We didn't see a ball for a week. I forgot what a basketball looked like."

Yet to paint Martin as a defense-only guy looking to win every game 60-58 also is wrong. Though his Missouri State Bears lost 60-56 at Knoxville last November, they also scored 80 or more points nine times and topped 100 once.

Conversely, Pearl's supposedly high-octane Vols hit 80 points or higher just six times last year, and not a single time after a 104-84 win over Memphis on Jan. 5, which also was the only time they broke the century mark last season.

"I'm not sure what my style is," said Martin, whose Bears teams finished first or second in scoring average his final two seasons there. "I just like to have fun coaching our guys, competing at a high level and playing hard."

The experts look at the team's makeup and dismiss the Vols as having neither enough experience nor talent to compete in an improved Southeastern Conference.

The media tabbed UT to finish 11th in the 12-team league. Almost no one has the Vols higher than ninth.

"I don't know what our record will be," said Tatum, who averaged 8.8 points and 3.1 rebounds last season for a team that finished 19-15 overall, despite losing eight of its last 12 games, including a 75-45 blowout to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"But I know that nobody will be able to say we didn't compete as hard as we could. That's the one word Coach Martin uses every day -- compete."

For that reason alone, expect Tatum to need far more than his team-high 16 "floor burns" (diving for loose balls) last year if he expects to top that category again under Martin.

"I just know I don't want [us] to be the first team since I've been here not to make the NCAA tournament," Tatum said. "When you see what [the media] think of us, it puts a chip on your shoulder to prove them wrong."

As the lone seniors on a 16-man roster (including walk-ons), Tatum and Renaldo "Swiper Boy" Woolridge certainly have their work cut out for them to return the Vols to the NCAA tourney for a seventh straight year.

In fact, Tatum's 298 points last season represent nearly half of the returning points scored by the Vols.

"The younger guys call me Pops and Gramps," Tatum said. "I guess I have been here a long time."

Long enough to see that the UT program needed a new and different direction if it expected to keep competing with the best of college basketball.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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