"Oh, man, it was very exciting," he said afterward. "I think that's why I performed the way I did."
His teammates must have been excited, too. The Vols raced to a 55-20 halftime lead and never let up, ultimately winning 106-46 over the Div. II Vulcans. Sophomore posts Wayne Chism (concussion) and Duke Crews (ankle sprain) weren't used. They weren't needed.
Seven Tennessee players scored in double figures. Tatum produced 15 points in 16 minutes. Iowa transfer Tyler Smith added 15 in 17 minutes. Josh Tabb had 15 in 20 minutes. JaJuan Smith added 13 points. Freshman Brian Williams chipped in 12, as did Ryan Childress. Chris Lofton contributed 10 points and 5 assists.
Tennessee shot 58.5 percent (38 of 65) from the field and 50 percent (12 of 24) from 3-point range. The Vols won the backboards 46-29 and limited the visitors to 28.8 percent shooting, including a frigid 1-of-24 performance from beyond the arc.
The game was just four minutes old when Cameron Tatum was inserted ... or unleashed. He immediately drained a 3-pointer, then rammed home a dunk off a nifty pass from Lofton.
Shortly before halftime Tatum was at it again, single-handedly outscoring the visitors 7-0. He made a dunk off a nifty pass from Jordan Howell, then scored on a reverse layup off a nice assist from Steven Pearl. When he capped the one-man spurt by nailing a 3-pointer from the right corner, Tatum turned to the fans and waved his arms for noise. Too late. They were already roaring.
"That was just spur of the moment," he said. "I was kind of in a groove, and I looked in the crowd and saw a lot of ‘em shaking their heads like ‘OK, OK.' I got a warm feeling and I kind of let my emotions get the best of me."
That's nothing new, though. The flashy freshman says being emotional and animated is standard operating procedure for him.
"I'm always hyped up for a game," he said, grinning broadly. "In an atmosphere like this, who wouldn't be?"
Stuck behind two seniors – a preseason All-American (Lofton) and a preseason second-team All-SEC pick (JaJuan Smith) – Tatum knows he'll have to fight for playing time this season. He did some pretty impressive fighting Friday night.
"I've got a couple of guys in front of me," he conceded, "so I just wanted to prove to the coaches and the fans that I can come out there and compete as well as anybody else on the floor and I can be a contributor to make us win."
Tatum wasn't the only impressive newcomer. The 6-10, 267-pound Williams hit 3 of 4 from the field and 6 of 6 from the foul line, finishing his debut with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots in 19 imposing minutes.
Regarding the two freshmen, head coach Bruce Pearl said Friday was "a great debut for both of them," adding: "Cameron showed when the lights came on the level of athleticism we've seen (in practice). He's fearless.
"Brian is a force in there. He actually can score better than he showed tonight around the basket. He's got great hands. When he gets those mitts on the ball, there's no taking it away from him. He's hard to score over and he's an excellent passer."
Tyler Smith showcased his all-around skills by going 7 of 12 from the floor, including a 3-pointer. He also registered 5 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist in 17 sometimes dazzling minutes. Pearl said the 6-7 sophomore was "patient and productive," particularly for a guy playing his first game in a new system.
Smith, whose father died of cancer in late September, was emotionally drained at game's end.
"I just really wanted to cherish this night," he said, "knowing this was the first game I actually played for the Volunteers and my father was going to be here. But I wanted to take my time and play my game."
Tennessee returns to action Monday night, hosting Lincoln Memorial at 7:30 in another exhibition game.