Who'll play the point?

Just about the only thing you could count on from the Tennessee basketball program the past four years was C.J. Watson starting at point guard. Now that the four-year starter is out of eligibility, you wonder: Who'll man the point in 2006-07?

Junior JaJuan Smith has the quickness and ball-handling skills. However, he has proven to be a far more productive player at the shooting guard spot.

Incoming freshman Ramar Smith is a top-20 prospect with great penetrating skills. Some say he's more of a combo guard than a true point guard, however. Besides, he has not yet made a qualifying standardized test score.

Incoming freshman Marques Johnson played point for his AAU team. However, he was a combo guard for his high school team. And, at 6-6, he might be a better fit for UT at off guard or even small forward.

Incoming freshman Josh Tabb has the raw tools to play point, according to his prep school coach. But Tabb split time between the point and shooting guard last winter and may need more refining.

Senior Dane Bradshaw has expressed interest in playing the point. But he probably lacks the quickness to hang with the SEC's more athletic lead guards.

So who'll fill the lead-guard void left by C.J. Watson's departure? I asked that question of senior post Major Wingate not long ago and got a surprising answer:

"I think we're going to have a lot of players step up," he replied. "You all will be surprised who steps up this year. We've got a lot of good freshmen coming in but I think the surprise player is going to be Jordan Howell. He's going to play a big role this year."

Howell, a 6-2 junior, is the forgotten man in most discussions of UT's point guard future. He averaged just 7.6 minutes and 2.1 points per game in 2005-06 but shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range (second only to Chris Lofton) and registered nearly twice as many assists (17) as turnovers (10).

The negative spin: UT has no clear-cut favorite to succeed C.J. Watson.

The positive spin: There's no shortage of candidates.


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