"Last year I did pretty good in this league," he said during a break in Monday night's Rocky Top action. "Then I came out for the (Tennessee) season and had a pretty disappointing year overall – for me and for the team, as well."
When his knees are healthy, the 6-7 Tatum is difficult to stop on slashing drives to the basket. That enabled him to hit a sizzling 61.4 percent of his shots (35 of 57) from inside the 3-point arc in the Rocky Top League a year ago.
Thus, the key question for Tatum is this: How are the knees?
"They're doing a lot better," he said. "I've been training real hard on leg work in the weight room."
Tatum exhibited an explosive first step as a UT freshman in 2007-08. With his knees troubling him, that explosiveness was missing in 2008-09.
"It's back now," he said. "I've just got to make sure I stay in the weight room all season long and make sure I do the other stuff – work on my quads and calf muscles to keep the pressure off of my knees. That way I don't have to use as much of my knee power, and I'll stay healthy that way."
Picking up where he left off last June, Tatum scored 36 points in his 2009 Rocky Top League debut Monday night. He was virtually unstoppable on drives but struggled with his perimeter shooting.
"Right now I'm just trying to get better every day, working on my game to help the team get better," he said. "I want to get more consistent on my outside jump shot. It really wasn't falling tonight but it'll fall."
Whether or not Tatum has a consistent jump shot remains to be seen. He made just 20.0 percent (9 of 44) of his tries from 3-point range in the Rocky Top League last June. Then, after draining 10 of his first 19 attempts beyond the arc for the Vols last November, he made just 33 of 115 (28.7 percent) the rest of the way.
Perhaps healthier knees will give Tatum more consistent results on his jumper in 2009-10. Perhaps healthier knees will give him more explosiveness on dribble-drives. Perhaps healthier knees will give him more quickness as a defender.
Regardless, Tatum wasn't the only Tennessee player who struggled in 2008-09. Several Vols played below their potential last season. Tatum is convinced that won't happen again.
"Pride," he said. "You can't allow any more 54 points games by one person (a reference to Kentucky's Jodie Meeks). The defense is going to be key. You can't give up."
Tennessee's defense was erratic last season. So was its effort and its intensity. Tatum predicts considerable improvement in all three areas in the season ahead.
"If you put all of that together, I don't think nobody can beat us," he said. "We've got the talent, we've got everybody back and we've seen what we need to do. When you put all of that together, we'll be a great team."