The former McEachern High School star has a reputation as a scorer, but he runs the offense for a Tennessee team that doesn’t really have a proven pure point guard. Golden gradually has learned the best way to get his teammates involved without losing his scorer’s mentality.
“I’m never really going to be the true point guard everybody wants me to be, but it’s my game,” Golden said. “I’m going to help continue to make others better and score the basketball. That’s what I do.”
Lately, he’s doing it as well as ever.
Golden has averaged 14.5 points while totaling 13 assists and only two turnovers in Tennessee’s last two games. He will try to continue that pace tonight when Tennessee (4-1) faces No. 20 Georgetown (4-1) in an SEC/Big East Challenge game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
His recent play backs up the faith Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin has shown in him.
Martin referred to Golden as a “scoring point guard” before the season and noted that the team generally is playing well when he’s performing well. Martin emphasized that the Vols needed Golden to score because it frees up the rest of the offense.
Golden has taken those words to heart thus far. He’s improved as a distributor while remaining one of the Vols’ top scorers.
“He’s done a tremendous job of taking care of the ball, getting the ball where it needs to go but also looking for his offense,” Martin said.
Golden has scored 12.4 points per game and he ranks third in the SEC with 5.2 assists per game. His 3.71 assist-turnover ratio represents a dramatic improvement from last year, when Golden collected 154 assists and 98 turnovers for a ratio of 1.57.
The 6-foot-2 junior spent the offseason working to upgrade that ratio.
“It’s something I really wanted to improve on — my decision-making,” Golden said. “I saw where I could improve. Things like that, at the end of the day, really helped me. Now it’s paying off.”
Golden was a model of efficiency Monday by scoring 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and handing out seven assists with only one turnover in a 77-50 rout of Oakland. He hasn’t turned the ball over more than twice in any of Tennessee’s first five games.
He also has helped the Vols fill the leadership void created by the injury to forward Jeronne Maymon, who hasn’t played all season after having a setback in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. Maymon, a 6-7 senior, averaged 12.7 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game last season as the Vols’ emotional leader. There’s no timetable for his return.
Maymon’s absence could prove particularly glaring Friday against a Georgetown team that has four starters 6-8 or taller. Georgetown’s only loss this season was an 82-72 overtime decision against top-ranked Indiana in the Legends Classic at Brooklyn, N.Y.
“You can lose a guy who scores the ball, you can lose a guy who does different things,” Martin said. “But when you’ve got a guy that’s kind of a blueprint of Tennessee basketball — (someone who’s) tough, hard-nosed, defends, rebounds, facilitates, a tremendous leader, with great character — when you lose those types of things, obviously it’s tough for a team.
“We talk about it all the time. You’ve got to be good off the court before you can be good on the court. He brings those things to the table. When you lose that type of leadership, it’s not an easy thing, but guys are doing a good job making adjustments.”
Golden has done his part to help fill that role. Martin noted that Golden was being more vocal on the floor. When the situation calls for it, he doesn’t hesitate to challenge teammates. The other Vols have noticed the difference.
“(He’s) just talking on the court, running the team, being a floor general out there, being a true point guard,” senior forward Kenny Hall said.
Golden might say that he’ll never be the “true” point guard that people want him to be, but his teammates apparently disagree.