Howell out 6-8 weeks

There is no good time to lose your starting point guard, but one day before facing powerful Texas is just about the worst timing possible. Still, that's the fate that has befallen the Tennessee Vols.

Jordan Howell, a 6-3 junior from Auburn, Ala., suffered a fracture in his right (shooting) hand during Thursday's practice and will be sidelined six to eight weeks, according to trainer Chad Newman.

Howell, who is averaging 3.1 points and 2.2 assists per game, has committed just eight turnovers in 174 minutes this season. He suffered a similar hand injury that sidelined him for much of preseason but Newman says the injuries are unrelated.

With Howell out, freshmen Ramar Smith and Marques Johnson likely will share the point guard duties in Saturday's home game against Texas (noon tipoff on ESPN).

Smith started the first six games before giving way to Howell. Johnson was Smith's backup in Games 1 through 4 before losing that role to Howell. Johnson did not play in Games 5 through 11 and appeared ticketed for a redshirt season.

In the four games he played Johnson contributed 8 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal. He committed 6 turnovers, shot 25 percent from the field, 33 percent from 3-point range and 60 percent from the foul line.

Oddly enough, I interviewed Jordan Howell following Wednesday's practice, the day before he suffered his latest injury. He had started five games in a row – all victories – and was excited to be healthy and playing well.

Here is that interview:

Q: How does it feel to go from not playing at all in the first exhibition game to being the starting point guard?

A: It feels great. I had a setback with my (preseason) hand injury but the coaches kept telling me, "Get healthy, and we're going to fit you in somehow or another." It's worked out.

I just kept working hard and I had to stay positive. There were a lot of times where I was beating myself up, saying, "Where am I going to fit in now that I got hurt?" All the players – Dane, Chris and everybody – just kept telling me to get healthy and everything else would take care of itself. That's what it's done.

Me and Ramar are splitting time at the point, and that's how it has to be. We both have to play about 20 minutes. We feed off each other really well. He brings something to the table I don't and I bring something that he doesn't. So far it has worked out for us.

Q: What do you bring to the table?

A: I'm a little more experienced on the court and I know our offense a little better because I've been in it longer. I bring a shooting aspect to the game. Ramar brings athleticism. He can do things I've never dreamed of doing – athletic plays and stuff. I think we complement each other well. So far, everything has been good.

Q: You seem quicker than last year. Is that because you know the offense better or have you picked up a step?

A: I think I've picked up a step. I worked hard this summer with (conditioning coach) Troy Wills, working on my athleticism and quickness. I knew to be a starting point guard you at least have to be quick enough. I think right now I'm quick enough.

Obviously, I want to improve in every area of the game. Hopefully, this next off-season I'll get even quicker. I feel like I'm a lot quicker. I feel when I have a step I can get around a defender, whereas last year I wouldn't even have tried it. And I think some of it is confidence – being a year more mature and having another year in Coach Pearl's system.

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