Cameron's coming-out game

One Tennessee player says the Basketball Vols' upside is "freaky." He should know. His upside is freaky, too.

Cameron Tatum redshirted as a UT freshman last season because of a knee injury, so the 6-6 wing was eager to showcase his skills in Saturday night's regular-season opener vs. Chattanooga. He succeeded, coming off the bench to hit 6 of 8 shots (3 of 5 from beyond the arc) on his way to scoring 19 points in 21 eye-popping minutes.

"Coming off an injury, this was my coming-out game," he said, smiling softly. "I was just telling myself that I really need to trust my knee more. I'm just helping my teammates out any way I can."

Asked to assess his performance, he paused briefly before replying:

"I think I played pretty good. I had a couple of mental lapses on defense and there was a couple of rebounds I think I should've got. Overall, though, I think I played OK."

His teammates must've played OK, too. The Vols shot 58.9 percent from the field, forced 24 turnovers and outrebounded the Moccasins 42-30 en route to a 114-75 romp.

"The upside of this team is freaky ... scary," Tatum said, adding the last word to clarify for a puzzled reporter.

The upside is even freakier when one considers that, counting two exhibition games, this team was playing together for just the third time. Tatum says that number is misleading, however, thanks to the availability of the state-of-the-art Pratt Pavilion practice facility.

"All summer we played together," he said. "There was an open gym, and we were always there, so we knew who could play with who."

Tatum missed the first few weeks of preseason drills due to knee problems. Fellow wing J.P. Prince suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss considerable practice time, as well. Walk-on Tanner Wild (back problems) also missed a good bit of preseason work. Each time a player came off the injured list, however, the Vols got a little deeper and a little better.

"Whenever people came back, it was a round of applause for everybody," Tatum recalled. "Everybody was happy when I came back, and when J.P. Came back. Even when the walk-on, Tanner Wild, came back everybody was happy."

As 114 points in the opener attests, this Tennessee team is capable of being overwhelming offensively. The question is whether the Vols are capable of being adequate defensively. Tatum is hopeful.

"We're a young team," he said. "Coming out of high school a lot of focus is not on defense. Coach (Bruce Pearl) is trying to instill defense, defense, defense. We're trying to get the young guys to understand that it's going to take defense to win a championship.

"Right now I think we're taking that extra step to get there."

Should the Vols take that "extra step" in the coming weeks... well, things could get downright freaky this season.

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