Watson's clicking for Vols

The big question heading into Tennessee's 2002-03 basketball season was whether first-year point guard C.J. Watson possessed the poise and skills to run the offense as a true freshman.

The answer, in a word, is a resounding YES.

Watson leads the Southeastern Conference with 5.6 assists per game. If he maintains his lead, he'll become the second freshman ever to pace the league in that crucial category. The first was Sean Touhy, who averaged 6.2 assists per game as an Ole Miss freshman in 1979.

You can make a pretty good case that Watson is the SEC's premier freshman. He ranks second among SEC rookies in rebounding (4.5 per game), fifth in scoring (9.7 ppg), fifth in 3-point percentage (39.1), seventh in field goal percentage (45.5) and seventh in steals (1.14 per game).

Asked if he thought Watson would be as advanced as he is at this stage in his rookie season, Vol head man Buzz Peterson shook his head.

''No," he said. ''He's really surprised me -- 117 assists and he's hit some big shots for this ballclub. But what amazes me more than that is his maturity level. A big game never fazes him.

''That's the reason I never talk to him about who we're playing next or what the arena's going to be like. He's mature enough to figure it out. He's way beyond what I'd thought he would be right now.''

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