As a Tennessee teammate last winter, Cameron Tatum saw Yemi Makanjuola as an unrefined gem. As a Rocky Top League teammate this summer, Tatum is starting to see some polish.
For one thing, the 6-foot-9 Makanjuola is no longer a non-factor at the offensive end of the court.
"He's getting more aggressive, demanding the ball," Tatum said recently. "That's what he's going to need. Coach (Cuonzo Martin) wants the ball going down low to him, so he has to be ready to score the ball. Coach wants the ball in his hands, so he's got to be aggressive every time."
Makanjuola, a sophomore from Nigeria, scored 13 and 16 points in his first two summer league games, then erupted for 27 Monday night. He vows to be more offensive-minded when Tennessee's season starts in November, as well.
"I'm working on playing good defense without fouling," he said. "And, when I get the ball in the post, I want to get a bucket or a foul."
Makanjuola has added 10 pounds of muscle since arriving at Tennessee as a 244-pound freshman last fall. He also has gotten stronger, although he can't say exactly how much.
"I'm not lifting as much as I want," he said, "but I'm doing a lot more than before."
Makanjuola played sparingly as a Vol freshman last season but showed some flashes. He scored 18 consecutive Tennessee points in a Game 12 blowout of The Citadel, finishing with a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes. He produced 7 points and 6 rebounds in an impressive 12-minute stint at Vanderbilt. He posted 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 16 minutes of an NIT start against Savannah State.
Although he averaged just eight minutes per game as a Tennessee rookie, Makanjuola believes each of those minutes will pay dividends in 2012-13.
"The big change in me is having one year's experience," he said. "That was a big year for me. I played away games, I played home games, and that helped me."
As a "sleeper" who didn't start for his Word of God Christian Academy team back in Raleigh, N.C., Makanjuola felt some pressure to prove himself in Year One at Tennessee. He believes he has eliminated that pressure.
"I play better when I'm relaxed, and I'm more relaxed," he said. "With my confidence, I feel like I can do a lot better than I did last year."
Although critics belittle the Rocky Top League for its lack of team play and defense, Makajuola believes he has benefited tremendously from playing in it.
"It helps me get in shape," he said. "I get to play a lot of minutes. This gives me a chance to work on my offensive and defensive game without fouling somebody."
It also gives him a chance to face some quality big men. In his summer league opener he faced Boo Jackson, a former NBA Developmental League player and the No. 1 pick in this year's RTL Draft. In Game 2 Makanjuola faced four-year Vol starter Wayne Chism, another veteran of the NBA Developmental League.
"That has never been my focus," Makanjuola said. "I never worry about who I'm playing. I just try to play against him and pick something good for me."
Although he remains a work in progress, Makanjuola is a lot more polished than when he arrived in Knoxville 10 months ago. That showed in his first few RTL performances.
"It's great, playing against top-notch competition like (Boo Jackson and Wayne Chism) in the summer," Tatum said. "It's going to help prepare him for the SEC.
"I can tell that he's more aggressive and more mobile. I think he can take a big step if he has the right mentality. If he wants to, he can do it."
MONDAY'S ROCKY TOP RECAP
Yemi Makanjuola scored 27 points and Vol teammate Brandon Lopez 21 as The Knoxville News-Sentinel trounced Campus Lights 123-94. Former Vol Dane Bradshaw scored 16 in the losing cause.
Tennessee's Josh Richardson scored 32 points but it wasn't enough as R. Larry Smith suffered a 124-121 overtime loss to DeRoyal. Former Vol Bobby Maze chipped in 25 points and current Vol Skylar McBee 17 for Smith. DeRoyal has no UT connections.
The final game of the night saw Jordan McRae score 33 points and fellow Vol Quinton Chievous 16 in leading Choice Spine past Rice Buick/GMC 116-113. Vol walk-ons Galen Campbell (34) and Rob Murphy (30) carried the scoring load for Rice.