No liability these days

He's shooting 63.2 percent from the floor, 50 percent from 3 and averaging 10.7 points per game. Still, one Tennessee Vol says his most notable progress from last season to this is on the defensive end of the floor.

"My biggest improvement is defense," sophomore Cameron Tatum said following Monday's practice. "Last year I was kind of a liability on defense. During the summer and the preseason I really worked hard on sliding my feet, recovering and helping my teammates out."

In defense of Tatum's defense, sliding his feet was difficult a year ago because he was playing on two bad knees. Thanks to some diligent work in the offseason, that is no longer a problem.

"They're feeling great right now," he said.

Prior to the knee problems Tatum exhibited explosive quickness to the basket and superior jumping ability. He flashed his offensive potential in the 2008-09 opener vs. Chattanooga by scoring 19 points in 21 minutes. He scored 17 points against a quality Georgetown team in Game 5, then lit up Gonzaga for a career-high 22 points in Game 13.

Tatum was painfully inconsistent last season, however. He was scoreless in losses vs. Memphis and at Kentucky. He managed just 2 points in back-to-back games against Georgia and Vanderbilt, then put up another deuce at South Carolina.

"I also worked on being more consistent on the offensive end - not having a good game, then putting up a goose egg," Tatum conceded. "I'm also working on limiting turnovers, stuff like that."

The 6-foot-6 Tatum was the Vols' backup small forward in Games 1-5. With senior starter J.P. Prince struggling, however, head coach Bruce Pearl moved Tatum into the lineup for Game 6 vs. College of Charleston.

"Cameron has been one of the most consistent players since the start of practice," Pearl explained. "Since the first week of practice I've been saying he's worthy of a start. I just felt like he'd earned it."

Although he appreciated the vote of confidence, Tatum says it's no big deal if he starts or relieves.

"I really don't think there's any difference," he said. "The key thing is, you just try to stay consistent ... do what you did to get that starting position.

"I'm backing up a great guy in J.P. He's struggling right now but I know he'll get it back together. Right now I'm just trying to fill whatever role needs to be filled."

As a former point guard, Prince is better at breaking down a defense and distributing the ball to his teammates. He recorded three times as many assists (97) as Tatum (30) last season. Tatum is a much better shooter, however, hitting 32.1 percent from 3 last season, compared to Prince's 12.5.

Tatum thinks the two are more alike than meets the eye, however.

"I think we both bring intensity," he said. "I think we both bring defense. We both have playmaking ability. I probably possess more shooting ability but we both can makes for ourselves and for our teammates.

"I think he's just as offensive minded as I am. That's why we came here - because we're both offensive minded. Right now I'm in a groove and the coaches are trusting me.

"That's a good feeling."

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