UT hoops coach sees offensive potential despite departures

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 9:58pm

University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin says the cupboard isn’t bare. It just looks that way.

Martin, who replaced Bruce Pearl in March, takes over a program that must replace a lot of scoring. Of the team’s top five scorers last seson, only senior guard Cameron Tatum (8.8 points per game) returns.

Freshman standout Tobias Harris (15.3 ppg) was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of last week’s NBA Draft. Scotty Hopson, who led the team as a junior with 17 points a game, did not get drafted but hired an agent, which ended his eligibility. Plus, Melvin Goins (7.9 ppg) and Brian Williams (6.8 ppg) completed their eligibility.

Therefore, Martin faces a lot of unknowns from a personnel standpoint — unknowns he can’t solve until he gets together with his team.

“I think the key with scoring is putting ourselves in a position to score baskets,” Martin said during Monday’s Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference call. “I think that kind of remains to be seen, so to speak, because we haven’t had a chance to go through actual live practices in situations to see what guys can really do with the basketball, making plays, especially when you run a motion offense. You have to see what guys are able to read defenses and make plays with the basketball, see how we score the ball on the blocks. There might be a guy that is unproven the past couple years and then all of a sudden he is a really good post player.”

Tatum will be the anchor — experience-wise and on offense — but he isn’t the only one back with valuable playing time in his back pocket.

Trae Golden played in 31 games as a freshman, averaging 13.3 minutes while backing up Goins at point guard. Golden scored just three points a game — in addition to 2.2 assists. But the 6-foot-1, 207-pounder could provide more of a scoring impact in a bigger role. He averaged 29.8 points during his senior year of high school in Powder Springs, Ga.

“He is a guy that I think has really improved,” Martin said. “His body has gotten a lot better. His confidence is at an all-time high right now. ... He is also one of the guys who scored a lot of points in high school. So he does have the ability to score the ball.”

As for a post presence, 6-foot-6, 173-pound Jordan McRae could be one answer to that question. He played in just 10 games as a freshman, scoring a total of 18 points. Though lanky, Martin says McRae possesses the ability to get up and down the floor. During his senior year of high school in Hinesville, Ga., he averaged 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four blocks.

“He is a guy who can really score the ball in a variety of ways — getting out of transition. He can push the ball. He can shoot 3s and he has great athleticism around the basket,” Martin said. “I think with him it is just the mental part of the game and the preparation side of the game. I think if he is able to get that down, he’ll be fine because he does have the ability to score the ball.”

Several other pieces will need to fall in place for a squad trying to rebuild its image. Though the Vols went 19-15, 8-8 in the SEC, and reached the NCAA Tournament, they played under a shadow of uncertainty as the NCAA investigated Pearl.

Martin will be working with a lot of unproven talent. Though they are green, Martin is encouraged by what he has seen, so far, from this group of Vols.

“The guys in the summer time are working hard, getting physically stronger as well as mentally,” he said. “I think they are doing a good job of playing with each other, hanging out with each other. I think those are the most important things in the summer months, just building a great relationship.”