"I'm just out here working on my leadership skills, knowing I'm going to be a senior this year," he said. "Shooting and dribbling - you can work on that all the time - but I'm also trying to work on the mental aspects of the game, so I can guide the young guys. We're going to be a young team, so that's going to be important for me."
Tennessee is going to be a young team, all right. The exception is Tatum, a fifth-year senior who played 857 minutes in 2010-11. Renaldo Woolridge will be a fourth-year senior but he played just 72 minutes all last season. Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon will be a junior but he played only the second half of the 2010-11 season and spent a mere 127 minutes on the court. Kenny Hall will be a junior, as well, but he played just 176 minutes last season. Sophomore Jordan McRae got only 53 minutes of playing time. Other than Tatum, the only returnees who saw anything resembling significant action were rising sophomore Trae Golden (411 minutes) and rising junior Skylar McBee (392).
With so many new players and a new head coach in Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee needs for Tatum to exert some senior leadership if the 2011-12 Vols are to be competitive in the rugged Southeastern Conference.
"With a lot of new guys coming in and new coaches coming in, it's a new program," he conceded. "I've got to get used to the Coach and deliver that message he's got to the young guys."
Asked what he has told freshmen Josh Richardson and Quinton Chievous about competing in the summer league, Tatum replied: "I tell them to just go out and play the game. Don't be pressing too much, trying to show out or anything. Just go out and play your game, get acclimated to the environment you're going to be playing in the next four years. Enjoy it while you can. It's going to be fun, so just enjoy it."
Tatum figures there's nothing more fun than winning, so he's putting more focus and energy into the Rocky Top League than in years past. That focus showed through in his RTL opener, when he drained three consecutive 3-point baskets between 3:01 and 1:58 to rally Richardson Construction from a 95-101 deficit into a 104-103 lead en route to a 107-105 victory. He was all smiles afterward.
"I feel great," he said. "You're trying to do whatever it takes to win. I didn't really shoot it well early, so I wanted to make sure we came out with a win. I'm taking this league a little more seriously this year."
Apparently, he's taking his leadership role at Tennessee more seriously, as well.