His first month as a Tennessee point guard showed freshman Armani Moore that he had much to learn. A little too much, it turned out.
After debuting with 11 points in the Vols' exhibition defeat of Victory University, Moore reverted to the form one might expect of a high school shooting guard transitioning into a college point guard: He struggled. As a result, he played just eight minutes the entire month of December and two minutes in the first two games of January.
It was not a fun time to be Armani Moore. Instead of pouting, however, he persevered. That's why he figures to see plenty of playing time when the Vols play Kentucky tonight at 7:05 in Rupp Arena.
"I sat down with the coaches and talked about my role on the team," Moore recalled of his stint as a little-used reserve. "They told me not to worry about it; to just keep working hard and my time will come. Then, when my name was called, just go out there and play basketball."
That's precisely what he did Saturday at Alabama ... only this time he was playing shooting guard, instead of point guard. Relieved of the pressure that goes with running an offense, Moore produced 7 points, 4 rebounds, an assist and a block in 21 quality relief minutes. Best of all: Zero turnovers.
"I thought Armani came in and played with a lot of confidence for a guy that hadn't played (much lately)," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He's done a great job in practice of staying focused, staying encouraged. He's one of those guys that comes in at 6 or 7 in the morning, faithfully and consistently working with Coach (Tracy) Webster on his game. Now you can see the results of it.
"He's always been an aggressive, hard-nosed player. The key was settling down in those situations. He's done a great job in practice, and he carried it over into the (Bama) game. I was very happy to see that."
Like many college freshmen, Moore found the intricacies of running a college attack a bit overwhelming initially.
"The toughest part was learning where everybody needed to be, learning to read the defense and run the right play," he said. "Not turning the ball over is the most tremendous part of the job. It's a lot mental because you have to think for everybody else on the court, as well."
Basically, Moore tried to do too much too soon at the point.
"Really, I think he struggled with that because there was so much pressure, so many things involved — running the team, setting plays, defending at a high level," Martin said.
"What we did was take him off the ball. He's playing a wing but he's also bringing the ball up in certain situations. Now he doesn't have to focus on being a true point and running the team. I think that's really helped him where he's able to flow a little bit."
Obviously, the reduced workload produced positive results Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
"It helps a lot," Moore said. "It helps me create for other people but also be able to score points, too. I felt like I played pretty good. I basically let the game come to me. That's what Coach Martin wants me to understand: It's not about going 100 miles an hour. It's about letting the game come to you."
One quality outing at shooting guard doesn't mean Moore's days as a point guard are ended, of course.
"He can grow into that in the future," Martin said. "But, right now, I think it really helps him to play off the ball. He's done a good job attacking.
"He's one of the guys that I'd put in a game in a road atmosphere; I'd definitely do that. It wasn't like he was fazed by the atmosphere or afraid (at Alabama). It was just a matter of him settling down and playing the way he's capable of playing."
One Vol who relates quite well to Moore's situation is sophomore Josh Richardson. He also tried to play some point as a Vol freshman and he also struggled to do so. He is understandably encouraged by Moore's rally now that he's back at his natural position.
"Armani has stepped up a lot," Richardson said. "Seeing as how he didn't play (much) the games before Alabama, being able to step into an atmosphere like that as a freshman and play as well as he did, I commend him for it.
"I'm real proud of him. There's no turning back now; he's shown what he can do."
GAME NOTES: The Big Orange brings an 8-6 overall record, an 0-2 SEC mark and a three-game losing streak into tonight's game. The Big Blue is 10-5 overall and 1-1 in league play.... Tennessee has more wins against Kentucky (66) than any team in college basketball but stands just 16-86 all-time in games at Lexington, including a 1-12 mark the past 13 years. The Vol victory came when Bruce Pearl & Company prevailed 75-67 on Feb. 7, 2006.... Kentucky had won 55 consecutive home games entering December but has lost twice at Rupp since then. The Cats fell to Baylor on Dec. 1 and fell 83-71 to Texas A&M last Saturday.... Tennessee is 0-3 on the road, having lost at Georgetown (37-36), at Virginia (46-38) and at Alabama (68-65)... One of Kentucky's star players is freshman forward Alex Poythress, a 6-foot-7, 239-pounder from Clarksville, Tenn. Poythress is averaging 13.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and shooting a sizzling 63.2 percent from the field.... The Big Blue also is expected to start 6-foot-2 sophomore Ryan Harrow (10.1 ppg), 6-foot-4 freshman Archie Goodwin (15.7 ppg), 6-foot-10 freshman Nerlens Noel (10.8 ppg) and 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein (7.6 ppg)... Tonight's game will be televised by ESPN.