The guy who distributes the ball generally catches hell when things go wrong. Ask Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray ... or Tennessee point guard Trae Golden.
Golden caught a lot of flak last season because he wasn't always smooth running the offense and wasn't always able to run with speedy opposing point guards. He accepted the criticism without offering an alibi, even though he had a really good one.
"I played with a lot of injuries last year but that's what happens sometimes," he said recently. "You push through the season."
Actually, Golden pushed through pretty well. He led Tennessee in points (13.6 per game), assists (154), minutes (32.0 per game) and foul shooting (82.8 percent). He was second in 3-point percentage (38.8) and steals (27). Jason King of ESPN.com tabbed him the SEC's Most Improved Player of 2011-12. Still, Golden expects to be far more productive in 2012-13.
"It's a lot different this year," he said. "I ain't got no injuries in my ankles or my knees, so it's good to go into a season knowing you're fully healthy."
Golden was Georgia's 2009-10 Mr. Basketball after averaging 29.8 points per game as a senior at McEachern High in Powder Springs. Deemed too short at 6-feet-1 to play wing in college, he has been making the transition to point guard since arriving at Tennessee in the summer of 2010. That transition has not been easy but he is determined to see it produce major dividends.
"My goal is becoming a better all-around player, learning the position and enhancing my knowledge of it," he said. "Watching game film with the coaches, there are so many failures that ultimately become successes. It's not an easy thing but you learn from your failures. I'm excited about this year because of how much I learned from last year."
A shooter in high school, Golden continues trying to become more of a passer in college.
"I think I've developed good," he said. "It takes time. I'm still learning the position but I've got much better chemistry with a lot of the guys. I understand where they're going to be and I understand my role much better."
Senior guard Skylar McBee has noticed.
"I think Trae's become more of a floor leader," he said. "You know who's in control when he's on the floor. That's the biggest improvement I've seen."
Cuonzo Martin sees the same thing.
"First and foremost, his mental approach has been a lot better," Tennessee's head coach said. "He's done a good job of leading guys, getting on guys, correcting guys when they need to be corrected. His game is growing. He's really attacking the basket well. I think that has more to do with his conditioning than anything. He's done a tremendous job of jump-stopping in the lane and finding guys. I think that's probably his best attribute right now. He's always had the ability to score the ball but the way he's finding guys really helps our program."
Some fans figured Tennessee would bring in a hot-shot point guard this season and move Golden to shooting guard. Instead, Martin brought in combo guard Armani Moore to give Golden an occasional rest.
"On our team we only have one true point guard and that is Trae Golden in my opinion," Martin said. "A lot is made about who is a point, a traditional point and that sort of thing. The key for me is who is able to handle the ball and not turn it over. The biggest key is taking care of the basketball.
"Right now Trae is the true point guard and Armani is fighting for those (backup) minutes."