KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee is in a familiar situation without a pure point guard.
They can only hope it works out as well as it did last season.
Tennessee’s lack of a proven point guard last season forced Josh Richardson into that role, and he responded by earning first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors in his senior year. Now the Volunteers are relying on seniors Kevin Punter and Armani Moore to take care of the ball-handling responsibilities.
“Us not having a natural point guard to me doesn’t mean anything,” Moore said. “We all got recruited to come to this university to play a sport - not a position. I think we’ll be fine.”
Tennessee’s ability to find a solution at the point guard position could go a long way toward determining how much success the Vols have in the first season of Rick Barnes’ coaching tenure. The Vols open the season Nov. 13 by hosting UNC Asheville.
The only true point guard on Tennessee’s roster is freshman Lamonte Turner, who was ruled ineligible to play this season by the NCAA. Punter and Moore both have at least some experience playing the point, even though it isn’t their natural position.
Punter worked out at point guard during last year’s preseason before giving way to Richardson once the games began.
He said that experience has helped him adjust this year.
“I’m way more comfortable than last year,” Punter said.
Punter averaged 10.3 points per game as a starting shooting guard. Barnes brought up the idea of playing the point to the 6-foot-2 senior by asking him how many shooting guards his size are playing in the NBA.
“It’s not easy,” Barnes said. “It would be like trying to take a halfback and try to make him a quarterback in a quick time, but the fact is he’s working at it.”
Barnes likes what he’s seen from Punter so far. He continually compliments Punter’s work ethic and mentions how well the senior has accepted what the new staff has taught him.
“Kevin Punter was the first player who truly bought in from the time we got here,” Barnes said.
Moore’s versatility also could help him adjust to handling the ball more often. Moore was recruited to play point guard but struggled at the position initially before moving into more of a jack-of-all-trades role.
The 6-foot-4 senior has made 48 career starts while demonstrating an ability to handle just about any role. At Tennessee’s Media Day event, each player sat behind a card listing his name and position. Rather than saying “guard” or “forward,” Moore’s card simply read “Everything.”
“Any sport is just about competing,” Moore said. “You can’t necessarily put a position on anybody. If they’re good at what they do, they’re good at what they do.”
Barnes calls Moore a “big-time competitor” and raves about Punter at every opportunity. He feels comfortable with each of those guys running the offense, even if neither would be defined as a natural point guard.
“Those two guys have great motors,” Barnes said. “We’ll count on them to play a lot of minutes. They know that.”
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