Cuonzo Martin discusses the Vols' 64-60 loss to Vanderbilt
During a previous Tennessee basketball coaching regime, I once called a coach whose former player had just signed with the Vols.
The player, who needn’t be named here, was being advertised as Tennessee’s new point guard.
“They’re gonna play him at point guard?” the coach replied with surprise in his voice.
This anecdote is illustrative of Tennessee’s historical struggle to identify, develop and enjoy the fruits of a good point guard.
Want a more recent illustration?
How about Wednesday night, when Vanderbilt’s Kyle Fuller dominated the Vols in a 64-60 win by the Commodores in Nashville.
Fuller isn’t considered the top-tier point guard in the SEC by any means. But he basically beat Tennessee by repeatedly getting into the paint for his own shots and dishes to set up teammates.
It was surprising the box score credited him with only 10 assists. It seemed like 20.
And it made you wonder how different the game would have been if the Vols had Fuller on their side Wednesday night.
If not Fuller, how about Alabama’s Trevor Releford? Or Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin?
UT is getting inconsistent play at the point, which frequently results in a stagnant offense.
Antonio Barton hasn’t been the plug-in replacement for Trae Golden that most thought he would be. To be fair to Barton, he’s more of a shooting guard miscast as a playmaker.
In freshman Darius Thompson, it appears Tennessee has its point guard of the future. He’s a natural, with terrific court vision and deft passing skills.
But for now, he’s a freshman. He has to get stronger, improve as a defender and show some semblance of a scoring threat so the Vols aren’t playing four-on-five.
Point-guard issues are a familiar theme at Tennessee, even in the good times.
The 2007-08 team that got to No. 1 in the polls and won an outright SEC title had its quirks. Going into the NCAA tournament, Bruce Pearl felt compelled to bench Ramar Smith and move wing J.P. Prince to the point.
Not a normal ploy for March Madness.
Oh, where have you gone Johnny Darden and Rodney Woods and Tyrone Beaman? Why can’t the Vols find great playmakers any more?
Tennessee’s premier point guard of the 21st Century is C.J. Watson, who started 118 of the 119 games he played from 2003-06.
Watson, currently employed by the Indiana Pacers, averaged 12.0 points over his UT career, but also ranks 11th on the SEC’s all-time assist chart.
The Vols stumbled onto Watson. UT coach Buzz Peterson was at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, when a local dad, Charles Watson, approached him and pitched his son.
The Watson family had Tennessee roots and the Vols hit a Las Vegas jackpot that would pay off for the next four years.
It’s generally not that easy finding and signing a good point guard. Cuonzo Martin’s first recruit at UT was a point guard, Wes Washpun. He came and went, barely a blip on the radar.
Martin should have better luck with Thompson, the one-time Vandy commitment from Murfreesboro.
Wednesday night was his third consecutive start. Fuller, a senior, was more than he could handle, thus Thompson played only 18 minutes.
Presumably, Thompson’s time will come if he puts in the work. He could be the starter through 2017.
That’s not much comfort at the moment, though. Time is running out on a season that isn’t exactly on point.