Wiedmer: UT's Cameron Tatum a study in toughness

Wiedmer: UT's Cameron Tatum a study in toughness

February 16th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

South Carolina's Bruce Ellington, left, drives as he's defended by Tennessee's Cameron Tatum during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

South Carolina's Bruce Ellington, left, drives as he's...

KNOXVILLE - It could have been the kind of game to signal a changing of the guard. Fouling out in just 17 minutes at Florida last Saturday, Tennessee senior Cam Tatum took no shots, scored no points and turned it over twice.

The game before that he'd scored just six points and committed three turnovers against South Carolina.

But did UT coach Cuonzo Martin consider for even a split-second benching Tatum against Arkansas on Wednesday night?

"He may have struggled with his shot," said Martin at the close of the Vols' 77-58 victory over the Hogs. "But Cam continues to bring his hard hat every day to practice. He's stayed consistent. And he came back with a good game tonight."

Indeed, Tatum's 26th start in UT's 26th game produced the kind of stat line any player would be proud to call his own: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals.

Beyond that, it helped produce the Vols' fourth straight win, a victory to move them to 14-12 on the season and into a fourth-place tie with Misssissippi State in Southeastern Conference play (6-5) heading into Saturday's game at Alabama.

Can anyone say, "NCAA Bubble?"

"Right now, this is the No. 1 team I've played on here, because it's my senior year," said Tatum. "The way we're sharing the ball, the way we're closing out games, our chemistry is really coming along at the right time."

Yet it seemed that for all the Vols' good vibes, everything was going wrong for Tatum at the worst of times.

"I don't think I'd ever played a game in my whole life when I didn't score a single point," he said when asked about the Florida game. "But I still tried to contribute in other ways. And tonight I made a couple of shots."

His teammates will tell you that the Vols' lone starting senior contributes in many ways.

"Just his experience, his leadership," said freshman Jarnell Stokes. "He's the one who does the talking in the locker room. He's the one who'll call a team meeting. And the way he plays defense -- he's all over the floor."

One of those moments sent Tatum to the floor diving for a loose ball with 13:24 to play. It brought the Thompson-Boling crowd of 16,048 to its feet in loud appreciation.

Then, 10 minutes later with Jeronne Maymon having been knocked to the floor just before a media timeout, Tatum rushed onto the court to help his fallen teammate to his feet.

"I was glad to see him out there," Maymon said afterward. "That showed what kind of teammate Cam is, what kind of leader he is."

It hasn't always been easy. Tatum was redshirted his pure freshman year due to knee problems. He was in and out of former coach Bruce Pearl's dog house the next three years.

Then came this season, his final season, and Tatum was forced to learn an entire new and different system from his years with Pearl. Yet he's already graduated with a degree in African Studies, he now has 1,011 career points and he is second on this team in assists and fifth in scoring.

So how much did it mean to Tatum to still be in the starting lineup tonight?

"I'd run through a wall for that man," he said. "He stayed loyal to me. You can't go wrong with a man like that."

His teammates and coach evidently feel the same way about Tatum.