UT men's basketball has found confidence over past year

Team has 'better feeling' for Puerto Rico

Kennesaw State guard Yonel Brown (4) defends against Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. Tennessee won 76-67 over Kennesaw State. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Kennesaw State guard Yonel Brown (4) defends against Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. Tennessee won 76-67 over Kennesaw State. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

A year ago, Tennessee basketball combed the beaches of Lahaina, Hawaii. Players that didn't know each other were led by a coach that didn't know the players. Together, they searched for themselves.

"We had no identity," UT point guard Trae Golden said Monday, remembering back to last season's Maui Invitational.

About this time a year ago, the Vols, holding a 2-0 record, traveled to the prestigious exempt tournament. A new coach and an overhauled roster were greeted by Duke.

The Blue Devils, ranked in the top 10, were chock full of veteran talent, and one-and-done freshman point guard Austin Rivers. The Vols, meanwhile, were a collection of unknowns.

"They were trying to find their way more than anything," coach Cuonzo Martin said, adding, "So was I."

Consider that now departed point guard Wes Washpun played 19 minutes in the 11-point loss to Duke. He only played 29 minutes the entire SEC season.

Asked about the difference between traveling to Maui last year and traveling to the Puerto Rico Tipoff this week, Golden shook his head, seemingly rattling long lost memories back from the abyss.

"The difference is that it's a much better feeling," Golden said. "We feel much more confident in ourselves as a team."

Sophomore Josh Richardson echoed the sentiment.

"A lot of it is confidence," he said. "Just going in and playing Duke, first of all. We wanted to beat them and we knew we could play with them, but this year we're so much more confident going into everything."

The Vols will head to the airport from campus at 5 a.m. today. After a connector in Atlanta, the team will arrive in Puerto Rico this afternoon.

Practices are scheduled on the island today and Wednesday.

Play begins Thursday. At 12:30 p.m. Eastern, Tennessee will face UNC Asheville. Coach Eddie Biedenbach's team is coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, but lost the formidable backcourt of J.P. Primm, Matt Dickey and Chris Stephenson to graduation.

Asheville, picked in the middle of the pack in the Big South, is not Duke.

The Vols lost two of three games last year in Maui, beating only Division II Chaminade on the final day to finish in seventh place. They went on to lose their next four upon returning to the mainland.

This time they will be looking for momentum.

If UT gets past Asheville, either Akron or Oklahoma State will await Friday. Neither team is Memphis, which the Vols lost to in double overtime in Maui a year ago.

The final opponent in Puerto Rico will come from a bracket featuring No. 6 N.C. State, Massachusetts, Providence and Penn State.

"Last year it was, let's go show people what we can do," Richardson said. "But at that point we didn't know what we could do. This year we know we're a good team, so the mindset is, let's go win this thing."

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 23

voloffaith writes:

Alas a poor basketball article with no one typing "FIRST" or some other adult message...."Puerto Rican girl just dying to meetchoo"

underthehill writes:

I have confidence this team and coach are going to give 110% effort to win every game they play..

CoverOrange writes:

in response to mempuss:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Martin needed his scholarship to recruit someone else. Washpun wasn't panning out and was encouraged to transfer. He did.

totoiv writes:

I went to the first game against Kenesaw State. While the Vols pulled away and had a double digit win, something about the game to me seemed off. Kenesaw State was actually a big (long) team at every spot and Stokes was often tripled teamed. Kenesaw looked better than a five win team (last year). I think the loss of Maymon really affected the team. Without him Kenesaw sold out on Stokes and the other players struggled to get open. I expected a little more from Golden. But, maybe this is his new role he is supposed to be shifting to. I thought the team looked better in last year's first game when Golden went off for almost 30 points. I hope it was first game jitters and Maymon can get back soon.

FeelVol writes:

I fear we'll really miss Maymon in this tournament, last year i thought he was our best player and only Stokes is probably an all around better player than him on this years roster.Go Vols!!!

atnvol#283282 writes:

in response to totoiv:

I went to the first game against Kenesaw State. While the Vols pulled away and had a double digit win, something about the game to me seemed off. Kenesaw State was actually a big (long) team at every spot and Stokes was often tripled teamed. Kenesaw looked better than a five win team (last year). I think the loss of Maymon really affected the team. Without him Kenesaw sold out on Stokes and the other players struggled to get open. I expected a little more from Golden. But, maybe this is his new role he is supposed to be shifting to. I thought the team looked better in last year's first game when Golden went off for almost 30 points. I hope it was first game jitters and Maymon can get back soon.

I also felt that the Vols play was missing something....no doubt Coach Martin will adjust a bit more without Maymon. It was good to see the reaction on Stokes, now Martin has had practice on making preparations for double and triple downs without Maymon. I am worried about Maymons injury lingering throughout the season though...we just are not getting definite information on a injury that he should have already recovered from typically.

wigmeister writes:

We will have our ups and downs this season. More ups with Maymon. Less ups without him. Since we don't really know how serious his injury is, we can just give the players full support to play without him. If and when he returns, we will be a much better team.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I expect good games all the way though this tourney. Asheville will not be a push over like some think. I believe though we have potential to win the whole thing. Golden is playing fine early but maybe a little tentative.

Speaking of Washpun it looks like we have a back up point now. Personally I thought Washpun would be good. I guess he was just a dunker. Athletic with nothing else much. We get a lot of those players at UTC. I really like our new players though.

We'll hopefully find out a little bit this tourney. Should we be ranked? I think so. I'd guess somewhere around 15 or so this early. We'll see.

GBO

hikerdude writes:

I had hoped that a Stokes-Hall duo could be almost as effective as a Stokes-Maymon duo, but I didn't see that in the Kenesaw game.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to totoiv:

I went to the first game against Kenesaw State. While the Vols pulled away and had a double digit win, something about the game to me seemed off. Kenesaw State was actually a big (long) team at every spot and Stokes was often tripled teamed. Kenesaw looked better than a five win team (last year). I think the loss of Maymon really affected the team. Without him Kenesaw sold out on Stokes and the other players struggled to get open. I expected a little more from Golden. But, maybe this is his new role he is supposed to be shifting to. I thought the team looked better in last year's first game when Golden went off for almost 30 points. I hope it was first game jitters and Maymon can get back soon.

Clearly KSU wanted the win more and we kind of went on cruise and Martin wasn't overly concerned..Hall is not Maymon so that hurts..McRae and McBee looked excellent.Iam getting the feeling that those 2 maybe getting over the shooting inconsistency.If our guards can stay at a 15 PPG average we will do well..Golden is taking what the defense gives him

johnlg00 writes:

Those who were worried about the way KSU came back on the Vols should remember two things. 1) When almost any team gets a 20+ lead in the second half, they tend to lose a bit of urgency; look at how Maryland came back from a similar deficit against UK and lost by only three, a Maryland team picked between 6th and 8th in a somewhat down ACC this year.
2) The Vols substituted freely and probably didn't have the same five on the floor for more than five minutes the whole second half.

On a somewhat negative note, the Vols historically have struggled in tournaments of all kinds. I hope they have learned how to play as a team without Maymon, have a better idea of which combinations work best, and are focused on consistent effort and execution.

underthehill writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Those who were worried about the way KSU came back on the Vols should remember two things. 1) When almost any team gets a 20+ lead in the second half, they tend to lose a bit of urgency; look at how Maryland came back from a similar deficit against UK and lost by only three, a Maryland team picked between 6th and 8th in a somewhat down ACC this year.
2) The Vols substituted freely and probably didn't have the same five on the floor for more than five minutes the whole second half.

On a somewhat negative note, the Vols historically have struggled in tournaments of all kinds. I hope they have learned how to play as a team without Maymon, have a better idea of which combinations work best, and are focused on consistent effort and execution.

I watched the Ky Maryland game..when Ky took it to the basket ..it was an automatic free throw call..unlike on the other end..I thought the refs bailed Ky out in this one..this is a young inexperienced Ky team that has one shooter you have to shut down to beat them..Wittler or something like that..with Maymon I think UT would beat this team ..w/o Maymon..the young guys are going to have to step up...

jakethevolguy writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Those who were worried about the way KSU came back on the Vols should remember two things. 1) When almost any team gets a 20+ lead in the second half, they tend to lose a bit of urgency; look at how Maryland came back from a similar deficit against UK and lost by only three, a Maryland team picked between 6th and 8th in a somewhat down ACC this year.
2) The Vols substituted freely and probably didn't have the same five on the floor for more than five minutes the whole second half.

On a somewhat negative note, the Vols historically have struggled in tournaments of all kinds. I hope they have learned how to play as a team without Maymon, have a better idea of which combinations work best, and are focused on consistent effort and execution.

You beat me to it, John. I was going to post the same thing. +1 GBO!!

Ironcity writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I will be curious to see how Hall shoots free throws through the year. If it was so simple to teach then every kid would be shooting them in 80% range. A lot of kids just can't hit them under pressure. What does help UT is that Golden is fantastic and he handles the ball the most for UT. Unfortunately for Pearl his PG Goins was one of the worst FT shooters on the team. Love Martin but he will have his work cut out with this group. The one thing I think this team will do better (though it has not shown yet) is shoot the three ball.

Ironcity writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I expect good games all the way though this tourney. Asheville will not be a push over like some think. I believe though we have potential to win the whole thing. Golden is playing fine early but maybe a little tentative.

Speaking of Washpun it looks like we have a back up point now. Personally I thought Washpun would be good. I guess he was just a dunker. Athletic with nothing else much. We get a lot of those players at UTC. I really like our new players though.

We'll hopefully find out a little bit this tourney. Should we be ranked? I think so. I'd guess somewhere around 15 or so this early. We'll see.

GBO

I think your a bit optimistic about our team but thats better then giving up in November. You mentioned Washpun I remember debating you (I think it was you)and saying I didn't think this guy would every play. I was impressed that Martin moved him as fast as he did. He did the kid a big favor and lets face it the kid we brought in from Ga. looks like a real keeper. Its never easy to tell a kid he will likely never play and he should transfer. Some coaches can't do it and then the kid is disgruntled, sits on the bench and becomes a cancer. Martin appears pretty straight up with the guys and they seem to be responding to being treated like adults.

doctorvol#211700 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I expect good games all the way though this tourney. Asheville will not be a push over like some think. I believe though we have potential to win the whole thing. Golden is playing fine early but maybe a little tentative.

Speaking of Washpun it looks like we have a back up point now. Personally I thought Washpun would be good. I guess he was just a dunker. Athletic with nothing else much. We get a lot of those players at UTC. I really like our new players though.

We'll hopefully find out a little bit this tourney. Should we be ranked? I think so. I'd guess somewhere around 15 or so this early. We'll see.

GBO

Washpun was not very athletic and handled the ball poorly for an sec point guard. It quickly became obvious he was out of his league.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Ironcity:

I think your a bit optimistic about our team but thats better then giving up in November. You mentioned Washpun I remember debating you (I think it was you)and saying I didn't think this guy would every play. I was impressed that Martin moved him as fast as he did. He did the kid a big favor and lets face it the kid we brought in from Ga. looks like a real keeper. Its never easy to tell a kid he will likely never play and he should transfer. Some coaches can't do it and then the kid is disgruntled, sits on the bench and becomes a cancer. Martin appears pretty straight up with the guys and they seem to be responding to being treated like adults.

I will 99% of the time look for the positive in our players.lol I should try anyhow. I know it's not true though.
It didn't take too long last year to see Washpun wasn't going to pan out. He seemed to only have the upside of the ability to jump. But who's to say he won't do better from where ever it was he went. I wish him the best. But Moore??? It was Armani Moore who was looking good in the game. They talked about him being 6'5" guard. I liked how confident he looked with the ball. I don't remember that confidence ever with Washpun.

Anyhow Washpun is history here.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to doctorvol#211700:

Washpun was not very athletic and handled the ball poorly for an sec point guard. It quickly became obvious he was out of his league.

I disagree with the lack of athleticism. It didn't seem to do him any good though as far as basketball IQ. He didn't appear to be very quick. That's hard to judge at guard. But for a while there every opposing guard was blowin' by our guards. Especially point. I suspect partly due to a new system??lol Good thing it doesn't take as long as the 3-4.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Clearly KSU wanted the win more and we kind of went on cruise and Martin wasn't overly concerned..Hall is not Maymon so that hurts..McRae and McBee looked excellent.Iam getting the feeling that those 2 maybe getting over the shooting inconsistency.If our guards can stay at a 15 PPG average we will do well..Golden is taking what the defense gives him

Really good observations. Both of you. I'll only add that it was an experiment game. I think Martin was trying to see how well Stokes and Hall worked in the game. He also wanted to see Chievous in the mix. They looked pretty good to me considering the defense KSt. threw together. I thought their defense was awesome for an over matched team.
You can bet though that Stokes will see some quicker more talented bigs than he saw with KSt. It's Hall I'm more concerned about in this season. Can he give good minutes against better squads. Can he catch the passes. They won't always be at his chest. Can he intimidate like Stokes does. And like Maymon.

I guess I should let some others comment. But basketball posters don't seem to be here much.

samvol writes:

wow with some of these comments you would have thought we lost by 30. and the comments about some players..wow. so much trash comments from people who wouldnt get picked to play on a girls jv team. some of the phooey on these message boards... smdh. and only one game into the season

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to samvol:

wow with some of these comments you would have thought we lost by 30. and the comments about some players..wow. so much trash comments from people who wouldnt get picked to play on a girls jv team. some of the phooey on these message boards... smdh. and only one game into the season

I'm sorry but I didn't get your post. I don't see anything on this particular article that had any overly disparaging comments or posts. If you're referring to Washpun then maybe. But I think it was honest evaluations without any name calling. I realize for some that's not as much fun. But if Washpun reads this then I'll be surprised. Also if he does maybe he'll take to heart what was said and work to get better. He knows he didn't "cut it" in the SEC. that doesn't say to me he couldn't improve his play by listening to the coaches in his future. I know I could never and could never have cut it on most small high school teams. I faced that fact a long time ago. If you took what I personally said as a slander on any player then I apologize.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to underthehill:

I watched the Ky Maryland game..when Ky took it to the basket ..it was an automatic free throw call..unlike on the other end..I thought the refs bailed Ky out in this one..this is a young inexperienced Ky team that has one shooter you have to shut down to beat them..Wittler or something like that..with Maymon I think UT would beat this team ..w/o Maymon..the young guys are going to have to step up...

We all know that UK tends to get the calls, almost no matter where they play. However, their style is GOING to lead to lots of fouls. They take the ball to the basket with AUTHORITY, meaning that the defenders have to be physical to stop them. Modern basketball is geared toward the offense; the arc under the basket is intended to prevent defenders from drawing cheap charges on drives. The NBA's current war on "flopping" is also influencing college refs; in the UK-Duke game last night, the block-charge calls nearly always favored the offense, for both teams.

This has implications for UT's defensive style. Since the Vols don't have any real shot-blockers, they rely on physical defense and taking charges. They may have to go to even more ball pressure, lurking in passing lanes, and maybe even more full-court pressure.

Like UT, Duke was a bit thin, numbers-wise, in the frontcourt, but Coach K did a great job of managing their minutes, and the experience of Plumlee and Kelly enabled them to continue to play effectively even when they were in foul trouble. Also, while this UK team is not likely ever to be as good as last year's, Coach Cal, as much as we Vol fans like to rag on him, is a great coach, and he will have them playing much better as the season goes on.

I think the Vols will be exciting and successful this year, but they all really need to develop a bit more discipline and mental toughness if they expect to reach the highest levels, as shown in both of those ESPN games last night.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Ironcity:

I will be curious to see how Hall shoots free throws through the year. If it was so simple to teach then every kid would be shooting them in 80% range. A lot of kids just can't hit them under pressure. What does help UT is that Golden is fantastic and he handles the ball the most for UT. Unfortunately for Pearl his PG Goins was one of the worst FT shooters on the team. Love Martin but he will have his work cut out with this group. The one thing I think this team will do better (though it has not shown yet) is shoot the three ball.

Good point about the need to make free throws over the long haul and under game pressure. Golden inexplicably missed three in a row against KSU, but he has shown the ability to make them over the long haul. Stokes REALLY needs to get up to at least the 70% range, because he is going to draw a lot of fouls if the other guys get him the ball enough.

As for the three-point shooting, the Vols can shoot them quite well, IMHO, as long as the right players are taking them. McBee, McRae, and Golden have the potential to shoot in the 40% range when they take good ones. I don't care if Richardson, Edwards, and Moore never take another three unless they have the ball with two seconds on the shot clock. The thing that distinguishes the really good teams from the average ones is that EVERYBODY knows what everybody ELSE does well, and works to get them in positions where they can do those things, and everybody REFRAINS from doing those things they haven't proven themselves successful at doing.

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