Tennessee Joins Fray for JUCO Guards

It's ironic that Bruce Pearl's greatest shortcoming in recruiting may be his greatest achievement as head coach at UT, as his wildly successful four-year run on The Hil has essentially been accomplished without the benefit of a bona fide lead guard.

The lone exception was year one with inherited senior point guard C.J. Watson, a player who could drive, shoot and pass. He was good in transition, solid directing the half-court offense and a strong on-ball defender. Watson has played the last two seasons for the NBA's Golden State Warriors for whom he is currently averaging 8.5 points, 2..3 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game.

The former four-year starter for the Vols, doubled his playing time this season with 23:06 per game up from 11:30 in 2007-2008.. Watson came up through NBA Development league where he averaged 26.4 points, 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game Watson scored a career high 26 points, dished out six assists and pulled down six rebounds against Sacramento on Jan. 14. He had 23 points, five assists and six rebound against the Knicks on Nov. 29. The player nicknamed Quiet Storm is hitting 85 percent of his free throws and 41.1 percent of his three point attempts.

Watson is the second Vol and ninth player in SEC history to record 1,000 points and 500 assists. Ranked No. 15 all-time at Tennessee with 1,424 career points. Also finished among top 10 in several categories, including assists (577, No. 2), steals (198, No. 2), minutes played (4,058, No. 2) , average assists (4.8, No. 4), three-point percentage (.396, No. 6), and three-pointers made (165, No. 8) and attempted (417, No. 9).

Among his many strengths, Watson played under control and made good decisions with the basketball. He knew when his team needed him to score and when it needed him to distribute the ball.

Replacing Watson has been a three-year project that has yet to yield satisfactory results. Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell shared lead guard duties those first two years but neither was able to break down half-court defenses, as Smith lacked shooting range and Howell wasn't a penetrator. Neither was consistent enough to direct the offense full time.

Howell graduated and Smith departed on less favorable terms, leaving the job wide open this season. The Vols did sign a promising prospect in Bobby Maze last year, but making the transition to the point after playing primarily the shooting guard role in junior college proved difficult. He should be better acclimated next season, yet questions persist about his shoot first mentality and uneven defense. Josh Tabb played point some although his size is less than ideal. J.P. ran the team some in transition but wasn't a viable option in the half-court style of contest that is typical of the post season.

The number of close games Tennessee lost this year served to underscore the fact there wasn't any player the Vols or their fans were comfortable having handle the ball with the game hanging in the balance.

That explains the Vols interest in obtaining a guard this spring who could make a difference next fall. In 2010 they expect the arrival of No. 2 ranked point guard Josh Selby of Baltimore, Md., but finding a bridge to that five-star talent is a high priority, particularly if they have a scholarship open up from a early departing junior.

At present the targets appear to be Melvin Goins, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound prospect from Mt. San Jacinto., in California. Originally from San Diego, he moved to Texas in middle school. He averaged 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals per game to lead Christian Life Academy (Kingsville, Texas) o a 42-8 mark as a senior. During his junior season he averaged 25 points per game

Goins signed with Ball State out of high school and played 30 games (starting 26) for the Cardinals as a true freshman. He averaged 8 points, 2.3 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game at Ball State but was benched the last three games and decided to transfer. At San Jacinto he paced the Eagles to a 23-11 record.

Although it has yet be confirmed, Goins is a potential visitor on UT's campus this weekend. He is also looking at Nebraska and Cincinnati.

Another PG candidate for the Vols is Rico Pickett of Miami Dade Junior College. A 6-foot-4, 190-pound combo guard from Decatur, Ala., who signed with Alabama out of high school.

He started 20 of 29 games as a true freshman for the Crimson Tide but was suspended for a violation of team rules and decided to transfer to Miami. He averaged 6 points and 3 assists per game in 2007-2008. He enjoyed a good sophomore season and has become a target for schools looking for back court help. Besides Tennessee he has heard from DePaul, Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, Maryland, South Carolina, South Florida and Florida State.

Pickett takes the ball strong to the rim and poses match-up problems for opponents. He is the type of physical player with quickness that Pearl has identified as the top need for the Vols. He also has a nice stroke that forces defenses to pick him up on the perimeter.

The Vols have only signed one prospect to the Class of 2009 in No. 9 power forward Kenny Hall.

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