JaJuan Smith took another huge step in 2005, averaging 9.5 points per game while serving as the sixth man and defensive stopper.
Now, cast in a starting role, he seems to be taking another quantum leap in 2006. He led the scoring in each of UT's exhibition games – posting 22 points against LeMoyne-Owen and 21 against Tusculum. He nailed 16 of 23 shots (69.5 percent) from the field, including 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) from 3-point range.
Smith, who also contributed 5 assists and 8 steals in the two tuneups, was Tennessee's hottest player of the preseason.
"It's just a wonderful feeling," he said, "and I'm going to try and keep it up."
Because of the energy and defensive prowess Smith displayed in 2005-06, he was voted the SEC's "Best Player Off The Bench" by The Tennessean. Given what a perfect fit he was for the sixth-man role, fans wondered how he'd adjust to being a starter. Apparently, they can stop wondering.
"It's the same," he said, "except you know during warm-ups that you're going to be on the court at the beginning, and you've got to come with the energy from the jump."
Smith tended to play out of control during his first college season, making too many turnovers and taking too many questionable shots. Those problems have largely disappeared now that he's a junior.
"I'm trying to let the game come not to me and not rush it," he explained. "Just knock down open shots."
So far, so good.