Last in a series


It took Tennessee basketball Cuonzo Martin about 30 seconds on Monday to respond to a text message question sent to him in Italy, where he’s in the middle of a four-game exhibition tour. The question: Are you encouraged by the play of Armani Moore?

“Very encouraged,” Martin wrote back.

When Tennessee allowed its newcomers to meet with the media in Knoxville a couple of weeks ago, the one who seemed the most like a typical freshman – i.e., wide-eyed, culture shocked, etc. – was Moore. But in his defense, as Martin later explained, Moore had endured a rough month or so before arriving on campus. Oral surgery kept him off the court for nearly a month, which of course set him back from a strength-and-conditioning standpoint. And worse, he lost 20 pounds he could ill afford to part with, given his 6-foot-5, 180-pound frame.

But Moore’s play in Italy would indicate he’s fought through his adversity. In the Vols’ first game, he contributed six points, four rebounds and two assists. Two of those boards came on the offensive end and led to put-back baskets.

In Tennessee’s next game, Moore buried a 3-pointer that sealed another victory.

Junior college swingman D’Montre Edwards may be Tennessee’s most physically ready recruit, but Moore might be the most important, given his ability to play all three perimeter positions. Martin is particularly concerned about whether Moore can handle the point guard spot. Last season, when starter Trae Golden had to rest, the Vols seemed to struggle settling into their offense and were often turnover prone. Golden will benefit from more rest this season, and Martin won’t be afraid to give it to him – if Moore can help out at the point.

“I’ve been versatile pretty much my whole life,” Moore said. “I’ve played the one, the two, thethree. Pretty much any position the coach puts me at, I just played it.”

As videos of his high school exploits clearly show, Moore has skills that Martin seeks out on the recruiting trail. He’s able to get into the lane and either finish at the rim or find open teammates. He’s also got size to post up. And he’s long and athletic, which, supplemented by plain old effort and want-to, should make him a lockdown defender.

“He’s a combo guard,” Tennessee assistant coach Kent Williams said. “He can play the one, two and three, and he has the size to guard all those spots. He’s just getting his feet wet, but he’s a guy we can see being very versatile, hopefully somebody who can spell us at the point when we need him.”

Moore admits that his early adjustment was rough.

“It’s been hard coming in,” he said before the Vols left for Italy. “I’ve just been working on trying to get better. Playing (the point), trying to learn where to put the ball for the big men, learning the system, getting used to the speed of the game.

“If’s different coming from high school to college. You’ve got to be strong. You’re playing with grown men, basically. It’s not like high school basketball where you can get away with certain stuff. This is a man’s game out here.”