Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin says multiple changes to the starting lineup aren't his "style," but it sounds as if the Vols are on the brink of changing things up again.
In what would be the fourth lineup switch since the start of the SEC season, Martin opened the door for Trae Golden's return to the starting five on Monday.
"If he continues to work hard in practice, I think so," Martin said when asked if Golden would start against South Carolina (9-13, 1-7 SEC) on Wednesday (TV: MyVLT, 8 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Golden, who started the first 22 games for the Vols (11-12, 3-5 SEC) at point guard this season, came off the bench in UT's 73-62 win over Georgia last Saturday to score 16 points and dish out five assists in 28 minutes.
When told of Martin's comments before Monday's practice, Golden's mood brightened.
"I better work hard these next couple days then, or I won't be starting; Coach has shown that," said Golden, who leads the team with 12.9 points and 4.7 assists per game. "It sent a message even if he didn't want a message to be sent."
Golden said he believes the reason he got benched was that he didn't bring the right kind of focus and energy to practice last week.
Martin insists he would prefer not to be tinkering with the lineup, preferring stability so that his players can more easily understand their roles.
"I like to keep the same routine and keep it consistent," Martin said. "In this case, we needed Trae to play hard on both ends and put forth a better effort. But I don't like changing lineups every other week; it's not my style.
"It wasn't to send a message; I don't get caught up in the periphery of what people think."
Martin didn't indicate who Golden would replace should he get his starting spot back.
UT junior Skylar McBee started in Golden's place at point guard, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the one coming out.
McBee's primary position has been at shooting guard, and when Golden entered the game, McBee resumed his play at that spot.
Freshman Josh Richardson has been the starting shooting guard since a 67-56 win over Florida in the SEC opener on Jan. 7, replacing sophomore Jordan McRae.
Richardson earned the spot with shutdown defense but has faded of late on both ends of the floor. Richardson is shooting just 24 percent (6-of-25) in SEC play, including 1-for-9 shooting from 3-point range over the past six games.
McRae, meanwhile, enjoyed one of his finest all-around performances against Georgia, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and dishing out two assists with no turnovers.
"We'll see," is all Martin would say about other potential changes to the lineup.
Former UT associate head coach Tony Jones, who's now coaching the Alcoa High School boys' basketball team, said he's sure Martin's decision to bench Golden had a strong effect.
"I know Trae couldn't have liked it," said Jones, who recruited Golden, Georgia's high school player of the year, out of McEachern High in Powder Springs. "But his parents, I'm sure they really didn't like it. What happens is even if the player can handle it, the parents and friends start asking them about it, and it's tough."
Martin doesn't discuss playing time with any of his players' parents, and he has made it clear that what others think certainly doesn't factor in.
Martin's decision to reconsider Golden as a starter is based on how Golden performed against Georgia and how he handles practice the next two days.
"I thought Trae did a good job, 16 points, six rebounds, five assists," Martin said of Saturday's Georgia game. "I thought it was his best job all season directing traffic and being vocal on both ends of the floor.
"If he pushes himself to exhaustion and continues to improve, he has a chance to be one of the best guards in the league."
McBee, who had 10 points with one turnover in the first start of his 87-game career, is the "second-best option" at point guard, said Martin, adding that there are no plans to move Golden to shooting guard during his UT career.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32