''Buzzball II'' debuts tonight

The Buzz Peterson era of UT basketball enters season No. 2 tonight, with the Vols hosting EA Sports, a collection of former pro and college players. Tipoff is set for 7:30 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

All eyes, of course, will be on freshman point guard C.J. Watson. If he can handle the playmaker duties like a veteran, Tennessee has a chance to improve on last year's 15-16 record. But asking a freshman to play like a junior is a tall order.

''It's difficult, especially in this league,'' Peterson said. ''I've described it like a carrot dangling out there. He takes a bite or steps back. C.J.'s a mature young man. He needs to be more consistent and create opportunities for his teammates. We'll have to help him grow, but he's our future at point guard.''

Watson combines with Stanley Asumnu, John Winchester and Boomer Herndon to form one of the most exciting freshman classes in recent Vol history. Based on their work in pickup games and preseason practices, this group will be fun to watch the next four years.

''We are counting on them contributing a great deal,'' Peterson said. ''They need to help us. They are already playing key roles. As the season goes along, they will get more and more minutes of playing time. Freshmen are sometimes inconsistent but that's where we coaches need to have patience with them.''

Tonight's game also will mark the return of flamboyant forward Ron Slay, who missed the last half of the 2001-02 season with a torn ACL.

''We need Ron Slay back,'' Peterson said. ''We missed his leadership last year.... He gets these young players ready to go every night. We can count on Ron, that when they throw it up, he'll be ready to go.''

Slay and 6-10 sophomore Brandon Crump are being counted on to carry the inside game, since the Vols will be very young and unproven on the perimeter.

''Those two could be a force,'' Peterson said. ''Right now we're looking for somebody to be the backup at the post.''

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