Mike Strange: Now is Cameron Tatum's best shot

Mike Strange

Cameron Tatum isn't sure when it began. Or why or how.

He just wishes it would end and end soon because the 2010-11 season is running out of shots.

"It's tough,'' Tatum said Tuesday, "because I've never really been in a this bad of a slump, this long.

"I've had maybe a game or two where I shot bad. But this slump right here, it's tough.''

The shooting slump that has gripped Tatum also is tough on his Tennessee team. Throw in his embattled coach, Bruce Pearl, too. The guy could use a couple of wins about now.

All concerned would love to see Tatum break out of his slump tonight at South Carolina. It' a winnable road game if the Vols play with purpose - and knock down some shots.

If Tennessee is to generate any 11th-hour momentum to carry into the postseason, it needs something positive from Tatum, a junior wing.

"Cam is extremely accountable,'' Pearl said. "He is aware that he needs to be that third option.''

The third option behind Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris.

Unlike those two, Tatum was never a McDonald's All-American. After two years as a valuable reserve, Tatum has started every game, averaging 9.4 points in 25.9 minutes.

Lately, though, his field-goal (39.4) and 3-point percentages (28.7) have dropped to a career low.

"It's probably hard for Cam,'' Pearl said, "in the sense we do a lot for Tobias and Scotty. We don't do as much for Cam to get him open.''

The Vols are 10-4 when Tatum scores in double figures, only 7-8 when he doesn't.

They're 3-7 when he scores six or fewer points. That's been the case five of the past six games, during which Tatum is 5-of-24 from 3-point range and 3-of-11 at the free-throw stripe.

The biggest miss was the one-and-one free-throw at Florida on Feb. 12 that opened the door for the Gators to win 61-60.

But his overall shooting slump had begun the previous game at Kentucky. His 3-point stroke had deserted him even earlier, starting with a 1-of-5 effort at Auburn.

Tatum stepped up during Hopson's two-game injury absence, averaging 15.5 points. He's had virtually nothing fall since.

The one exception was a 73-67 win over South Carolina in Knoxville in which he was 5-of-9 from the field and scored 13 points.

Prior to that game, one of UT's coaches gave Tatum some written advice from Steve Kerr, a noted marksman in a long NBA career, on the subject of slumps.

"Just shoot the ball,'' Tatum recalled. "Don't think about it. When you're thinking about it before you shoot it, there's gonna be a problem.''

But Tatum is 4-of-20 shooting in the three games since. The cure didn't stick.

Tatum has since turned to other NBA stars, Ray Allen and Gilbert Arenas, studying their reaction to shooting slumps.

"I haven't talked to them personally,'' he said, "but I'm trying to pick their brains.''

Pearl is right about Tatum being accountable. He's been in the gym before and after practice getting up shots.

He also took to heart Pearl's challenge to the team leadership after the Mississippi State loss.

"I kind of knew who it was,'' Tatum said. "Not just to strike at me, but all the leaders on this team.''

There is more than one way to lead. But it would be an easier task if a few shots would swish through the nets.

"It's just one of those things,'' Tatum said. "When one falls, the next falls and it'll be good.

"I just hope it happens soon.''

Sooner would be good. At this point there may not be a later.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange

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Comments » 29

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say for some crazy reason the teams successes and failures seem to lead back to Tatum. Witch Doctor say he disappears in games like Hopson did last year..Witch Doctor say step it up!
Bones never lie.

vol75 writes:

Hey, at least the game is on the road. They have a chance. Unfortunately, the pattern for this team has been set since December. Not likely to change now. They are a great group of kids that give it their all. They are just missing some ingredients for wins.

zigvol writes:

Please win this game guys! I have a feeling if we lose were nit bound.

VolunteerLifer writes:

In another article, Cam said that he has struggled to understand his role on the team and what is expected of him. You would think the coaches would tell him, "look, we have lousy three point shooting on this team. What we really need from you is to be a dependable 3 point threat." What's so hard to understand about that?

carbonzip writes:

Pretend you are playing in the rockytop league.

reelvol writes:

Amazingly Vols can finish as the East 2 seed and get the first day bye at SEC Tournament with two victories and a loss by Georegia at Bama and Vandy vs Florida. We need to win these two and hope for the best from the other games - getting the two seed could be a huge boost at making a run in SEC Tournament and hopefully turn around this team and season at just the right time.

carbonzip writes:

Who is the fourth option? Who is the last resort?

kthoma14 writes:

""It's tough,'' Tatum said Tuesday, "because I've never really been in a this bad of a slump, this long."
Would like to know the % of KNS articles with errors.

MidTennVol writes:

I've always liked this kid. I hope he does well. Best of luck to you, Cam. Hang in there.

tnvol4ever writes:

Not sure he has a "best shot". If he does we could sure use it as soon as possible. Tatum, Goins, and Williams all average in the 7-9 points per game range. One of these guys needs to become a double figure scorer for us to have any real success the rest of the way. Somebody please start knocking down some shots.

esarmstrong#231516 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

In another article, Cam said that he has struggled to understand his role on the team and what is expected of him. You would think the coaches would tell him, "look, we have lousy three point shooting on this team. What we really need from you is to be a dependable 3 point threat." What's so hard to understand about that?

Nothing. But, if throwing in three pointers was a simple as coaches telling them, then this would have been fixed some time ago.

esarmstrong#231516 writes:

in response to vol75:

Hey, at least the game is on the road. They have a chance. Unfortunately, the pattern for this team has been set since December. Not likely to change now. They are a great group of kids that give it their all. They are just missing some ingredients for wins.

I'm not so sure they are "giv[ing] their all", whatever that might mean. How else can you explain winning over Villanova, Pitt, Missouri State, Belmont twice, Vandy twice, Georgia on the road and then going in the tank against Charlotte, Oakland, USC, College of Charleston, Mississippi State, Georgia at home, and countless others. Watching this team play is maddening. I'm ready for the year to be over.

GreeneVol writes:

Here's how I perceive the mental processing of this YOUNG man: Expectations - Slump - Pressure - Onus - Step Up - Do or Die - Go Time - It's On Me - Be a Leader - Coaches in Trouble - Don't Think, Just Shoot - Third Option - Missed Free Throw - Let the Game Come to You - Take It To Them - and oh yeah, Don't Choke. Good luck with all that! I know that I'd be praying a lot, meditating, & wondering if a sports psychologist could help. It's a tall order, Cam. Hang in there...

davidray31#232814 writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say for some crazy reason the teams successes and failures seem to lead back to Tatum. Witch Doctor say he disappears in games like Hopson did last year..Witch Doctor say step it up!
Bones never lie.

Witch Doctor is back to posting.Things will be right again with team!!

huntined#565710 writes:

Not just Cam the whole team is a poor shooting team..miss two foot shots under the basket miss open lay-up's and at the foul line.. just poor shooters period..

brod writes:

we need him to get out of this slump. he is a critical player on the team.

hikerdude writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

In another article, Cam said that he has struggled to understand his role on the team and what is expected of him. You would think the coaches would tell him, "look, we have lousy three point shooting on this team. What we really need from you is to be a dependable 3 point threat." What's so hard to understand about that?

Skylar also said he wasn't sure what the coaches wanted of him. I think this may be the key to this team's problems. Other than Scotty and Tobias (and maybe little Pearl),the players are hesitant because they don;'t know what their roles are.

johnlg00 writes:

Like many offensive-minded players, Cam has let his shooting slump bleed over into other aspects of his game. With his height, length, and leaping ability, he should be more of a factor defending and rebounding. As I posted on another thread, there are literally dozens of things a player could and should be doing to help a team win even if he is not scoring. Maybe if Cam paid more attention to some of those things, he would experience less pressure on himself to score and, ironically, his shooting might improve.

Besides, most of the losses in the TEAM'S slump have been by the thinnest of margins, so getting just a couple more "50-50" balls a game, securing another couple of defensive rebounds, and a little more pressure on opposing shooters might have won them a half-dozen more games. He could do more in those areas even if he is not shooting well. It's NOT just all about shooting.

VOL1972 writes:

I would rather have Williams out there, but when he was suspended last year other players filled the void nicely.

If we win our next two games (not an easy task)and get a little help, we could get a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. One win there and we go to the NCAA as an 8 or 9 seed. That would be an unbelievable accomplishment given the cloud hanging over this team all year.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to hikerdude:

Skylar also said he wasn't sure what the coaches wanted of him. I think this may be the key to this team's problems. Other than Scotty and Tobias (and maybe little Pearl),the players are hesitant because they don;'t know what their roles are.

IMHO, players shouldn't be worrying so much about what their roles are. It should be obvious to all that Harris and Hopson are our two main options. In the nature of things, no one else is going to have a lot of plays run for them. When the others are on the floor with them, their roles should be to get the ball to them, set screens for them, get position for offensive rebounds, or be ready to get back on defense if they don't have a chance to get the offensive rebound. If they did all those things consistently, they would not only have chances to score, they would be able to contribute even if they WEREN'T scoring. Nobody should need to be told they need to play good defense, chase loose balls, or rebound defensively, either.

Lostvolinhighweeds writes:

IMHO, and I am certainly no expert, but I think a lot of the poor shooting is caused by the "score early or score late" system.
The way it works, if they want to shoot, they know they have to jack up a shot quickly. If not, they have to dribble the shot clock down to 10 seconds and then start trying to score again. That usually results in a rushed, poor shot as well. I have no problem with taking the entire clock to get a good shot, but they should be trying to score for the entire shot clock, not just the first and last 10 seconds. Everybody we play knows it. As a result, they only have to play legitimate defense for about 20 seconds.
Can you imagine if this were boxing how many fights you would lose if you only tried to hit your opponent for the first and last 30 seconds of every round 3 min round?

VolFolks writes:

Cam needs to move better on offense. One game I counted the seconds, once he go to his wing position. The first time he stood in the same spot for 8 seconds and the second time he stood for 17 seconds...yes 17... count and see if that doesn't seem an eternity during a basketball posession. He might as well have a chair placed at half court and rest before getting back to play defense!!

As for the leadership issue, I know coach Pearl is very involved during the entire game. But maybe that has caused the team feel as if they need to look at him before deciding what they should be doing instead of using some of their natural instincts within the instructions given and learned during practice.

brod writes:

in response to CrippledCoon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

are you one of these people who sits in the lower deck and barely moves the entire game? i feel the same way, but i'm not giving up yet. too much orange blood in the veins.

1vavolfan writes:

This article should have thrown Goins into it with Tatum. Watching him play this year has been maddening. There have been games this year when he has played 25-30 minutes and not even scored!When he plays good defense and and can contribute with say 10-12 points UT is a different team.

VOL_MAROONED_IN_NC writes:

Mr. Cameron needs to grow up and realize that there are two McDonald's All-American's on this team and he is most definitley NOT one of them. Same for Goins, call them Option 5 and Option 5-A. But of course they will continue to jack up 28 foot 3 pointers with 15 seconds left on the shot clock and choke on last minute free throws while our growing embarrassment of a coach poses for the ESPN cameras but otherwise does nothing.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Lostvolinhighweeds:

IMHO, and I am certainly no expert, but I think a lot of the poor shooting is caused by the "score early or score late" system.
The way it works, if they want to shoot, they know they have to jack up a shot quickly. If not, they have to dribble the shot clock down to 10 seconds and then start trying to score again. That usually results in a rushed, poor shot as well. I have no problem with taking the entire clock to get a good shot, but they should be trying to score for the entire shot clock, not just the first and last 10 seconds. Everybody we play knows it. As a result, they only have to play legitimate defense for about 20 seconds.
Can you imagine if this were boxing how many fights you would lose if you only tried to hit your opponent for the first and last 30 seconds of every round 3 min round?

I think many of us have wondered the same thing all year. If UT wants to use the long bench but they don't press or run much, the only way to tire out the other team is for all offensive players to be constantly passing and cutting with the objective of scoring at any time on the clock so the defense also has to move and stay alert through the whole possession. The way they have done it most of the season, if they don't score early, which they rarely do, the defense can just take a 25-second nap before they know they have to do any work.

PeeEllthree writes:

in response to hikerdude:

Skylar also said he wasn't sure what the coaches wanted of him. I think this may be the key to this team's problems. Other than Scotty and Tobias (and maybe little Pearl),the players are hesitant because they don;'t know what their roles are.

Their roles are to quit wondering what to do and play ball when they get on the court. Where's Rommel comes to mind again. Play ball and stop wondering.

PeeEllthree writes:

in response to PeeEllthree:

Their roles are to quit wondering what to do and play ball when they get on the court. Where's Rommel comes to mind again. Play ball and stop wondering.

...and stop mentally wandering during the middle of the game. And have fun. You can't play ball when you are tight and tense. This team has had no fun this year, on and off, and it shows.

johnlg00 writes:

How ironic is it that less than a minute after the cold-shooting Cam Tatum hits a nice 18' jumper, THEY TAKE HIM OUT OF THE GAME! That is, IMHO, just the latest example of the folly of taking a player out of the game according to some inscrutable "schedule" with NO regard to the progress of the game or the process of restoring the confidence of a potentially key player. I think that was in fact Cam's LAST field goal of the game. How in the HECK was that supposed to get him back in the scoring groove? Sometimes I just want to grab some coaches by the lapel, give them a good shake, and ask--in a soft, polite voice, of course--"What in the HECK are you thinking?!?"

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