Goins, Tatum Working Back into Rotation

The last month has been arduous to say the least for Tennessee guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum. Despite everything that has happened to the young men the last month, both are working hard in hopes of providing a spark for their team. Go "Inside" this special basketball practice feature to get a better look at their situation.

The last month has been arduous to say the least for Tennessee guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum.

Following a Jan. 1 incident in which the junior and sophomore were involved in misdemeanor gun and drug related charges, the duo were placed on an indefinite suspension, which would ultimately last 15 days and four games.

"Being out there and being at war with them, that's the most that you miss," Tatum said of the suspension. "And the winning aspect of it. The game of basketball for me is my remedy for a lot of things."

Before the incident, Tatum offered up productive guard play, splitting sixth-man duties with J.P. Prince, averaging 8.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists through 12 games.

Goins served as the backup point guard before the suspension, averaging 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Since their return against Alabama on Jan. 19, Tatum is averaging 4.5 points a game, highlighted by a Florida game in which the sophomore went 2-of-3 from behind the arc and added five rebounds.

Goins, who had playing time in three of the last five games, is putting in 2.3 points per outing, with his best game coming at LSU, where he collected five points and eight rebounds.

The numbers might signal some rust, but to Tatum, a return to full power could happen at any moment.

"It was really in practice, just going through the reps," Tatum said. "(Against) Vanderbilt I was kind of getting back into it. The Florida game was really when I felt like I was getting my game back."

"We've been through a lot. We've just wanted to get back out there and prove ourselves, put the whole situation behind us."

At times last season, Tatum provided a hot hand from long range, something the Volunteers have lacked this season with the exception of guard Scotty Hopson's contributions.

In 34 games last season, Tatum hit 43 three-pointers, shooting 32 percent from long distance.

Aside from being a defensive contributor (17 steals in 2008, 12 this season), Tatum has been eager to once again bring a threatening outside shot to the team.

"Before practice, after practice I've been in and out of the gym constantly, getting in shots with the managers," Tatum said. "Whatever void I can fill, if they need me to be a spark off the bench shooting-wise or defensive-wise, whatever I can do."

"I put pressure on myself in the preseason from just wanting to fill that void to be able to knock down the open shot when called upon."

Also a defensive specialist (18 steals this season), Goins has been working to improve his three-point shot as well, which showed when the junior hit a three-pointer to start the Vols' scoring against LSU on Thursday.

"Lately I've just been in the gym working on my shot," Goins said. "Going into the game I had a lot of confidence. I think that helped our team get going right there."

Contributions from behind the arc will be welcomed by a Tennessee team that has seen its scoring average drop 10 points in the last five games, as compared to the previous five.

Defensively, the Vols have been superb this season, ranked 25th nationally in steals and 28th in field-goal percentage defense.

The Big Orange also rank fourth nationally in turnover margin, sitting at a comfy 5.4 average.

"You're offense might not work every time," Tatum said. "You know you can't really control if the shot goes in or not, but you can control your effort on defense, you can control how you get down and guard somebody."

With SEC foe South Carolina coming to Knoxville on Saturday, it will take another special defensive performance to contain senior guard Devan Downey, who is currently averaging 22.9 points per outing.

"When you have a scorer like that and he's your point guard, he's your floor general," Tatum said. "He's going to have the ball ninety percent of the time."

Goins could share the tough task of containing Downey, along with guard Bobby Maze.

"I think it's very exciting just to have the task to guard a special player like that," Goins said. "He's a special basketball player. Something about him, it's just his will power, his desire for the game."

Hopefully for Vols fans the short rest period sandwiched between Thursday night's road test at LSU and Saturday evening's home contest with South Carolina won't see the players breathless by halftime.

For Tatum and Goins, who admittedly are still returning to form after the suspension, game time responsibilities could carry twice the exhaustion.

"I wouldn't say my legs are fresh," Goins said. "My first game back my legs were dead, after that first rotation. They might have the advantage over me just because they've been going and they're in shape. Practice and game shape is two different things, it's totally different. I got a game or two under my belt now so I think I'm starting to get back."

The type of endurance needed to survive tough conference games will only return to the pair after consecutive weeks of aggressive games and practice.

"I'm working in game situations just to get back," Goins said. "I don't think I'll be able to get all my explosiveness back and quickness back without playing in the games."

For Tatum and Goins, they may not have a choice with each game weighing so heavily in a race to win the Southeastern Conference for a third consecutive year.

"Every game right now in the SEC is important," Tatum said. "We're trying to defend a championship so every game right now from here on is very important if we want to defend that championship and represent Tennessee like we're supposed to."

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