Talkin' the talk

Like a S.W.A.T. team poised outside the door of a darkened building, Tennessee's alarmingly inexperienced basketball team has no idea what perils await.

Regardless, fifth-year senior Cameron Tatum is preparing to burst through the door and lead the charge.

"We're using Cam to ask questions and just to lean on him because he's been there," junior post Kenny Hall said recently. "We all got a little bit of playing time here and there but he's actually contributed over the years. He's like a big brother to us, guiding us in a direction we've never really headed down before."

As the lone returning starter from 2010-11, Tatum is the obvious choice for team leader. Still, he's an odd fit for the role due to his soft-spoken nature.

After four years of relative silence, though, Tatum is coming out of his shell these days. He's directing impromptu workouts and pickup games. He's advising his youthful teammates at every opportunity. He's translating coaching points for the freshmen. He's praising guys who hustle and admonishing guys who don't. Basically, Tatum is trying hard to become a vocal leader, even though it contradicts his low-key nature.

"Last year Cam wasn't really the vocal type," sophomore wing Jordan McRae said recently. "But, knowing we have a young team we need somebody with some experience to be more vocal, and I believe he's willing to take on that role."

Based on the team's individual workouts, Tatum appears to be making a concerted effort to become a more forceful presence on the team. That's exactly what first-year head man Cuonzo Martin wants to see.

"That's what we preach," Martin said. "He's a senior, and I think he's earned his way, and I think you give him the right to be a leader. He has to be an extension of our coaching staff in order for us to be successful. What we say on the court, he has to translate the same things in the locker room."

Tatum says he is trying to do precisely that. Before he can translate the staff's expectations to the team, however, he must be certain he understands those expectations himself.

"I sit down and talk with all of the coaches once or twice a week," he said. "I'm learning, because it's a whole different style. As a leader it's my job to try and translate that to the guys when the coaches are away, so when we get on the court it'll become second nature to us.

"And I talk to the younger guys so they know what to expect, so that when it hits them it won't be a total surprise."

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