Bona-fide point guard

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Tennessee basketball coaches have spent most of the past 20 years trying to convert shooting guards into point guards. No conversion is necessary for Cory Stanton. He was born to play the position. Just ask him.

"A point guard is what I've always been," said Stanton, who enrolled in January after starting his college career at Clemson. "I've been a point guard since I was five years old, and that's not something you learn ... that's something that's in you. That's who you are. Being able to lead the team and get the ball to the open man are really strengths of mine."

Vol fans must take his word on that, since NCAA transfer rules require that Stanton sit out the last half of the 2011-12 season and the first half of the 2012-13 season. For a guy accustomed to playing two games per week, watching the action has been tough.

"The biggest adjustment is not being able to travel and not being able to play," the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder said recently. "Being here when the team isn't here and getting some shots up by myself is a big adjustment."

Tennessee's No. 1 point guard in 2011-12 was sophomore Trae Golden, another in the long line of converted shooting guards. He did a reasonably good job adapting to the role but Stanton hopes to challenge him for the first-team job next season.

"The key is my conditioning," Stanton said. "My conditioning is not where I want it to be. It hasn't been where I want it to be for a year and a half now. I just want to get in great shape, stay in great shape and never get out of it."

Vol assistant Tracy Webster, a three-time All-Big Ten point guard at Wisconsin in the 1990s, sees potential in Stanton.

"He has a decent feel. He has great vision. He passes the ball really well," Webster said. "Those are the point-guard qualities you look for. He's continuing to learn the game, and I think it (time at Tennessee) has been really good for him."

Being ineligible to play this season, Stanton got very little attention in practice. As a result, Cuonzo Martin says the jury is still out.

"He's doing a good job," Tennessee's head coach said. "It's always tough for guys that are sitting out. The focus is always on the class room, taking care of business there more so than on the floor. Once the season is over we'll get him on the floor and really work him out. Everything during the season is more of a team thing and him focusing on the (academic) things he needs to focus on."

One Vol teammate has seen enough of Stanton, however, to believe he'll contribute significantly next season.

"He's a really good player, a really good point guard," junior shooting guard Skylar McBee said. "He's a great passer, and I think he's really going to be able to help us."

Stanton hopes so, because playing point guard for Tennessee has been a long-time dream. An in-state product, he played for Springfield High School under Johnny Darden, the Vols' point guard during the so-called Ernie & Bernie years (1977-79) of Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. Darden remains Tennessee's career assists leader to this day.

"It was great, being a point guard and being able to learn from a guy that played point guard his entire life," Stanton said. "It's something you can't teach; it's a passion that's given to you, something you're able to do. He's a great guy and a great coach."

Asked if he has watched any film of Darden during his playing days, Stanton nodded emphatically.

"I have," he said. "My favorite one was the Kentucky game when he got into a fight (laughs). I love watching him play, love watching him dishing the ball to Ernie and Bernie. He was a great passer and a great scorer when he wanted to be."

Stanton appeared destined to sign with the Vols a few years ago.

"They were on me kind of hard my freshman and sophomore year, then it kind of died down when they started recruiting Josh Selby and Aaron Craft," he recalled. "They were great players, so I didn't take anything (personal) from it. All programs want great players. Coach Pearl was a great guy. I guess I just wasn't what he was looking for at that time."

As fate would have it, former Vol head man Bruce Pearl secured commitments from both Selby and Craft only to see the former decommit in favor of Kansas and the latter decommit in favor of Ohio State.

As for Stanton, he overcame being snubbed by Tennessee to enjoy a terrific senior year at Springfield High. He averaged 23.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, with seven 30-point outings.

After signing with Clemson, he posted two memorable performances as a freshman in 2010-11. He sank 4 of 7 shots in a 20-minute relief stint versus Michigan that saw him record 9 points, 4 steals and an assist. He subsequently hit 3 of 5 shots in a 7-point outing against North Carolina.

Stanton played 10.7 minutes per game as a rookie with 20 steals and more assists (25) than turnovers (21). The guy who once burned Clarksville High for 43 points as a high school junior averaged a mere 2.4 points per game, however, and shot a chilly 21.1 percent (8 of 38) from 3-point range.

"I'm a lot better shooter than that," he insists. "It was tough playing behind DeAndre Young, a great point guard who was a senior at Clemson this year, and Demontez Stitt, who was a senior shooting guard last year. It was tough to get high-percentage shots when you go in two or three minutes just to give those guys a rest. You don't get that many opportunities to shoot the ball. My shot is a lot better than what the stats show."

Stanton decided last July to drop out of Clemson and transfer to Lipscomb University in Nashville so he could be closer to home.

"I had a lot of family deaths. A lot of people passed in my family this past year," he explained.

After one semester at Lipscomb, though, Stanton decided to fulfill his long-time dream of playing for Tennessee. He transferred again, this time enrolling on The Hill. He's eager to play for Cuonzo Martin, a man he met several years earlier.

"I remember Coach Martin from my sophomore year in high school," Stanton recalled. "He recruited me when he was at Missouri State. His coaching staff is great. The guys on the team are great. I played against a lot of 'em in Tennessee Elite camps and things like that. I love the things Coach Martin is doing, and I'm very excited about the opportunity to play here."


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