The starting gig traded hands three times last season.
From Jordan McRae to Josh Richardson to Skylar McBee.
With former Tennessee guard Cam Tatum occupying the small forward position, starting shooting guard duties evolved until McBee took hold for the final 12 games of the year.
Upon Tatum's departure, most thought McRae — a junior who averaged 8.6 points in 21.7 minutes per game — would start over Richardson — a sophomore who averaged 2.9 points in 16.0 minutes.
Makes sense, no?
When the Vols met Georgia Tech in a preseason scrimmage on the last Sunday in October, Richardson started.
It's been that way since and McRae swears he's fine with it.
"I really don't mind it," he said. "Some people ask me about it and I just tell them that it's my role. It would be one thing if I was getting 12 minutes per game, but I'm still playing 25-plus."
Or even 30-plus. McRae scored 12 points over 31 minutes in UT's last outing, an 83-69 win over Massachusetts a week ago.
McRae has repeatedly said he embraces being a scoring punch off the bench. Egos, though, do exist. It can't be easy to stand idle as Richardson's name is called and fireworks light up Thompson-Boling Arena, as they will again tonight (TV: FSS, 7 p.m.). for the Vols game against Oakland
According to McRae, coach Cuonzo Martin didn't formally tell him he'd be the team's sixth man.
"I'm not the type of person he'd even have to tell that to," McRae said. "I knew I was still going to play, but it maybe makes me go a little harder in practice."
The playing time has been there. So has the production. McRae is averaging 11.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent from the field through four games.
Starting point guard Trae Golden can often been seen on the floor yelling for McRae to be aggressive.
"We're so much better when he brings it," Golden said.
Even if he's bringing it from the bench.
"To be able to accept that and thrive in that role says a lot," Golden said. "It's perfect for him."
McRae is noticeably better driving the ball into the paint this season and is not being neutralized by physical defenders.
"Sometimes when I'd drive last year I'd have the angle, but get bumped off a little," McRae said. "This year I can take the bump a lot better."
That doesn't mean bigger, stronger defenders don't still present a problem. Oklahoma State had plenty of them. McRae, not coincidently, went 1-for-8 from the field and UT lost 62-45.
That said, the jump shooting is improved. After finishing last year missing 16 of his last 18 3-point attempts, McRae is 7-for-13 to start 2012-13. The key is the right elbow. He's worked with assistant coach Kent Williams on keeping it tucked in when rising for jumpers. When the right-hander swings that elbow out like a car door, an errant shot is on its way.
McRae noted that he's far more comfortable on the floor this year because of the improved stroke and better shot selection. It shows. Remove the Oklahoma State game and he is 13-for-22 from the field.
When he's that tidy, McRae is the scoring option Martin seeks beyond Golden, Jarnell Stokes and the injured Jeronne Maymon.
And a weapon off the bench.
"I like my role," McRae said. "Really, I do."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn