January man

Imagine Tennessee basketball player Josh Bone as a bear who hibernates in November and December, then begins stirring each January.

Last season, when four teammates were suspended following a celebrated Jan. 1, 2010 traffic stop, Bone abruptly went from mop-up duty to key reserve. Twelve months later, with Vol coach Bruce Pearl looking to put his best defenders in the playing rotation, Bone finds himself getting a significant bump in playing time as another new year begins.

The 6-foot-3 senior guard from Nashville missed all of November and most of December due to a fractured wrist sustained in the Vols' exhibition opener. He recovered in time to see 10 minutes of action in Game 12 vs. UT Martin and 15 minutes in Game 13 vs. College of Charleston.

Even with Tennessee trimming its rotation from 12 to 10 this week, Pearl sees Josh Bone being a key player going forward.

"I do," the head man said. "For the same reason that Josh had great impact on our team last year - particularly at this time a year ago and in the NCAA Tournament - when we needed his defense and his toughness. Those are two areas I think Josh can help out in."

Bone also can help in another area of need ... 3-point shooting. He was 2 for 2 vs. College of Charleston. Although he filled in primarily at point guard last season, Bone will play the wings this season.

"He can play 2 and 3," Pearl said. "The 2 and 3 spots are very similar positions for us. It's just a matter that one runs on one side of the floor and one on the other side of the floor, and who you match up with (defensively). Getting his quickness and toughness in the rotation I think can help."

Bone is a bit rusty after missing essentially the first two months of the 2010-11 season. That rust showed at times in last Friday's home loss to Charleston, as Bone readily admits.

"I'm not making any excuses in my game or anything," he said. "I was expected to play defense well and execute plays. We just didn't get it done. I feel like I can get in better shape. This is my second game back but I expect to be back fully the next game, produce and bring more to the table."

One thing Bone always brings to the table is perimeter defense. That's why he could be a key figure in the months ahead.

"The games we lost we got blasted on the defensive end because we couldn't keep up with the guards," he said. "It was evident in this (Charleston) game, too."

After winning their first seven games, the Vols have dropped four of their last six. They seem to have lost their poise and their confidence. Getting them back won't be easy.

"It's going to take focus, practice, determination and will not to give in," Bone said. "We need to be resilient, come to practice and get ready to get better. We can't do nothing about the games in the past. That's the past. We just have to look forward."

Because Bone is a defensive specialist, Pearl's recent pronouncement that "You play defense or you don't play" was encouraging to the Vol senior.

"Yeah, but it should be for everybody," he said. "People should be ready to play defense, knowing Coach said that. We just have to be more focused, so we can win games."

Despite the severity of Tennessee's recent struggles, Bone is confident the Vols can turn things around.

"Of course, we're down," he said, "but we just have to stay together, stay positive and take on a tough Memphis team (Wednesday night)."

Like the rest of the Vol Nation, Bone and his teammates are glad to see a difficult December fade into oblivion.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "It's a new year, and we're glad it's a new year. There's always another game to play."

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