Tennessee men's basketball players Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins started the new year learning a new - and very costly - life lesson.
The rental car they were stopped in on Jan. 1 was found to have two guns - one under the driver's seat and one under the passenger seat - as well as a small bag of marijuana in a backpack in the back seat.
The traffic stop resulted in Tatum and Goins being suspended four games, including the Vols' historic win over No. 1-ranked Kansas. Neither player was allowed to return to the team until he was cleared by the UT student judicial affairs committee.
Their court case, once postponed, is scheduled to be taken up next Friday in General Sessions Court at 9 a.m.
"You learn you have to always be aware, and you always have to be careful,'' said Goins, a point guard who transferred to UT from Mount Jacinto (Calif.) Junior College. "It was a really unfortunate experience.''
Tatum, who like Goins wasmade available to the media on Friday for the first time since returning from the suspension, said much the same.
"The lesson I learned was to be extremely cautious,'' said Tatum, a redshirt sophomore in his third year with the Vols. "I mean, how often do you look under the seats when you get in your friend's car?
"The hardest part is knowing that some people who don't know me will assume and speculate, and I can understand that,'' said Tatum, who was driving the car when it was stopped for speeding the morning after the players returned from a New Year's Eve event. "But the people who do know me and have stuck by me know I wouldn't be associated with any of those things (guns and drugs).''
Both Goins and Tatum said the hardest part about being suspended was being separated from their teammates.
Senior Tyler Smith was permanently dismissed from the team on Jan. 8, having taken accountability for the firearms, according to coach Bruce Pearl.
Junior post Brian Williams, whose backpack contained the marijuana, continues to serve an indefinite suspension. He'll miss his 10th game tonight against South Carolina, a contest that signifies the midway point of the SEC season.
Williams has continued to work out on his own and could return to action as early as Tuesday night's game at Vanderbilt, a source said.
But once back, it will take Williams time to get back into the flow. Goins and Tatum are just now returning to form.
"They are both playing well,'' Pearl said. "I've been pleased to see Cameron playing so well in limited minutes. His play warrants more time, but J.P. (Prince) has been so productive.''
Tatum has hit 7 of 12 shots from the floor and scored 18 points in the four games he has played since the suspension.
The lightning-quick Goins pulled down a career-high eight rebounds in the Vols' win over LSU and was the only UT defender up to the task of stopping Tigers guard Bo Spencer.
"Spencer scored 25 points, but he didn't get many of them on Melvin,'' Pearl said. "Melvin came in last night and really made a difference.''
Smith, a two-time All-SEC performer, issued a public apology after the incident and will move toward a professional career after the legal process runs its course. He is working out in Nashville and no longer enrolled at UT.