NCAA rules prohibit Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin from saying too much about his team’s scrimmage against Georgia Tech at UTC’s McKenzie Arena on Sunday, but there’s nothing in the rulebook that says he can’t single out a job well done.
And Sunday night, long after the scrimmage was over, Martin was still effusive in his praise of junior point guard Trae Golden.
“He accepted the challenge and played well,” Martin said. “I thought he did a good job of finding his shooters, finding his big guys. You could see the improvement defensively. He just did a good job of running his team.”
Golden’s play will be a key to the Vols’ season. No one has ever questioned Golden’s talent. Consistency, or a lack thereof, has been his main issue, but in Golden’s defense, he hasn’t been a starting point guard all that long.
“As a freshman, he played behind Melvin Goins,” Martin said. “And last year, he was thrust out there (as a starter), playing all those minutes, learning his job as a true point as he went along. Now, he’s older, he’s been around the block, and he wants to win.”
Martin’s observations on other key players:
• Jarnell Stokes. “He played well,” Martin said. “He’s just so powerful, so strong. And he’s getting stronger. But he’s also gotten faster, and his athleticism has improved. You can see it. It’s one thing for me to talk about it, but you can see it.”
• Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-6 sophomore started at the three spot, and he’s expected to lay claim to the position when the season begins on Nov. 9. “He plays hard,” Martin said. “Josh just plays hard. He also plays with a level of toughness, but it’s a focused toughness. He’s not wild and out of control.”
• Jordan McRae. The 6-6 junior is far from the forgotten man. McRae has always been a great finisher and a passable 3-point shooter. Now, he’s much more consistent from behind the arc.
“He’s consistently knocking down perimeter shots,” Martin said. “And he’s got a good basketball mind and makes good decisions. The big thing for Jordan has been maturity—being relaxed, letting the game come to him.”
McRae has also shored up his defense, to the point where Martin will allow him to gamble a bit.
“He can impact the game in a lot of different ways,” Martin said. “We’ve been talking to him about being more aggressive getting out in the passing lanes. Gamble to get steals. We practice that and give our players freedom to make the decision if they think there’s a good opportunity (to get a steal).”
• Kenny Hall. The 6-9 senior will step into the starting lineup in place of Jeronne Maymon, who’s still rehabbing his knee after offseason surgery. “He’s getting a lot better,” Martin said. “And he’s become more vocal.”
Martin hopes to make scrimmaging against another power conference team a regular part of the Vols’ preseason preparation. NCAA rules allow teams to play two exhibition games or two scrimmages, or one of each.
“When you’re playing a scrimmage, you have an opportunity to play a lot of guys and give them a shot,” Martin said. “Exhibition games are good for the fans, but a lot of times, you’re doing everything you can to try and win that game. You want to play everybody. But if you can’t do that, even if you win the game, you lose in the end.”