Boiling point

Watching a basketball player mature is a lot like watching a pot boil. You rarely notice the results until the process is complete. Occasionally, though, a player's maturation takes a step so significant that it's hard to overlook.

Such was the case for freshman Ramar Smith in Tennessee's last three games. The backup point guard showed some flashes in Game 8 vs. Murray State, producing 7 points and 4 assists in 17 minutes. He stepped it up another notch in Game 9 vs. Memphis. Although he made just 1 of 7 floor shots, he was taking the ball to the rim aggressively. That enabled him to shoot 6 free throws (making 5) en route to a 7-point, 7-rebound outing.

Smith gave his best performance to date in Game 10 Saturday vs. Western Kentucky, hitting 4 of 5 from the floor and scoring a career-high 15 points. He also contributed 2 assists, a blocked shot and a steal in 22 impressive minutes.

"You can see Ramar grow and mature and utilize his athleticism out there on the floor, get to the basket, get to the foul line," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "It was good to see him thinking about scoring. He had a few turnovers (4) but he's getting there."

Smith credits his improvement to some recent advice from his coach.

"He said I'm a point guard, so I've got to get my teammates into the offensive sets, step up – he wants me to score – and just make shots," Smith said. "I'm feeling pretty good. I feel like I'm going to get better as the year goes on. I've just got to keep making plays."

Though he was a heralded signee, Smith had to make the adjustment from combo guard to point guard upon arriving at UT. The transition was far from smooth at first.

"The first few games I was feeling pretty bad, wasn't playing so good," he recalled. "But I kept staying in the gym, working hard, and now I'm coming along good."

Smith admits that taking on the responsibilities of a point guard was "tough" for a guy with no background at the position. "But," he added, "it's something I've got to do if I'm going to make it to where I want to make it to."

Asked what has changed since his sluggish start, Smith replied: "I just see the big picture now. I can score, penetrate, kick it out. We've got two good shooters on the wing, and that's opening it up for me. Slowing down and being patient has opened up more opportunities for me. "

Smith started Tennessee's first six games at the point. Since surrendering the first-team job to junior Jordan Howell, though, he seems to be playing much better. Apparently, coming off the bench has relaxed him.

"Yeah, I believe Jordan's one of the best point guards in the SEC," Smith said. "He doesn't make turnovers, he plays hard and I'm learning a lot from him."

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