Natural-born point guard

Finding a first-rate point guard is a lot like finding a four-leaf clover. The odds are against you, but you know good fortune is coming your way if you succeed.

Tennessee appears to have succeeded today with the signing of Daniel West.

West, a 6-1, 165-pounder, has led Saginaw High to back-to-back Class A state titles in Michigan. He produced 21 points and 8 assists in a 90-71 defeat of Detroit Pershing for the most recent championship. West's senior averages included 15 points, 11 assists and 6 steals in helping the Trojans finish 27-1 and ranked No. 4 nationally by USA Today.

In a statement released by the UT sports information office, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said: "There is probably no position more important to look for a champion than at point guard. What Daniel has accomplished at Saginaw High School speaks for itself.

"He has all of the qualities of a good point guard. He makes people better by distributing the basketball. He has the ability to score and he can make plays when the game is on the line. Defensively, his ability to anticipate and steal the ball should really help our press. He is also fortunate to have played for Lou Dawkins, who is one of the best high school coaches in the nation."

I recently wrote an article for Rocky Top News chronicling Tennessee's long-term struggle to find true point guards – a struggle that spans three decades. The Vols have utilized 14 guys at the point over the past 30 years, and eight of the 14 were wing guards forced to play the point simply because there was no one else.

It all began when head coach Don DeVoe converted Bert Bertelkamp from a wing into a point guard in 1979. Bertelkamp wound up starting in '79 and '80, guiding the Vols to NCAA Tournament appearances each year.

Michael Brooks, another natural wing guard, was forced to play the point in '81. DeVoe had an honest-to-God point guard in '82 and '83, Tyrone Beaman, then had to play another wing (Tony White) out of position in '84, '85, '86 and '87.

Clarence Swearengen, another natural point guard, filled the role in '88 and '89. Allan Houston, an NBA-caliber wing, spent considerable time at the point from 1990 through '93.

LaMarcus Golden was a true point guard for the '94 Vols but he left shortly after Kevin O'Neill arrived as coach. Junior college transfer Shane Williams was a capable point guard in '95 and '96 but the next three point guards – Brandon Wharton (1997), Tony Harris (1998-2001) and Jon Higgins (2002) – were all wing guards forced to play the point.

Tennessee finally enjoyed the luxury of a legitimate point guard from 2003-06, with C.J. Watson filling the bill. When he graduated, however, the point duties in 2007 and 2008 fell to a pair of converted wing guards, Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell.

I titled my RTN story "A wing and a prayer" because the Vols basically spent the past 30 years praying that wing guards could adapt to playing point guard.

In doing research for my story I asked DeVoe point-blank: Are quality point guards THAT hard to find?

"Oh, there's no question about it," he replied. "Point guards have skills that you don't teach. You can't teach a kid to play point guard at the Div. 1 level unless he has the innate skills – the quickness, the ball-handling ability and a savvy you are more or less born with.

"Point guards are born, not developed. They just naturally make plays that other people can't make."

C.J. Watson was such a player for Tennessee. Perhaps Daniel West will be, too.


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