Vols' McRae heats up while his teammates struggle


Vols' McRae heats up while his teammates struggle

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee guard Jordan McRae is on a roll in the Southeastern Conference. So are the Volunteers, just in the other direction.

The Vols have not been able to capitalize on the best stretch of the junior's career.

He has scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games, all Tennessee losses. The Volunteers have dropped their first three Southeastern Conference games for the first time since 1997-98.

The Vols (8-7, 0-3 SEC) will try to avoid going 0-4 in conference play for the first time since 1993-94 on Saturday when they host Mississippi State (7-8, 2-1). The losing streak has given McRae no reason to celebrate the best individual stretch of his career.

``I still feel bad that we lost,'' McRae said. ``The points don't cross my mind at all. At the end of the day, I want to win. That's all I'm about, just winning. We haven't done it lately.''

McRae certainly has done his part.

The 6-foot-5 McRae leads the SEC with 23.3 points per game in conference play. McRae has a team-high 13.9 points per game overall this season, although he didn't enter the starting lineup until last week. He's the first Tennessee player to score 20-plus points in four straight games since Chris Lofton in 2008.

``I'm attacking more and being more aggressive than I've ever been in college,'' McRae said.

McRae's surge followed a discussion with Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, who told him to start shooting more often. McRae didn't attempt more than 10 shots in any of Tennessee's first 11 games. He has shot 34 of 67 over his last four games.

``I said to him two or three weeks ago, `If you're a scorer, then be that,' `` Martin said. ``I don't know too many scorers who leave games on a consistent basis with six or seven shots. If you're a scorer, get 12-15 shots and get to the free-throw line. It's the same thing I tell Trae Golden and Jarnell Stokes. Those guys have the ability to score the ball. They have to get shots up.''

The Vols need to give McRae some help.

Tennessee doesn't have anyone else averaging more than 8.3 points per game in conference play. McRae was the only Vol to score in double figures in each of Tennessee's last two games, a 68-65 loss at Alabama and a 75-65 setback at Kentucky.

The Vols were picked before the season to finish fourth in the SEC, but they've run into plenty of roadblocks.

Jeronne Maymon, a second-team all-SEC forward last year, won't play a minute this season because of an injured left knee. Golden, the Vols' leading scorer last season, has fallen out of the starting lineup and hasn't exceeded eight points in any of his last five games.

Stokes, the Vols' best pro prospect, has made more than three baskets in just three of Tennessee's last 10 games. Senior guard Skylar McBee, the team's top outside shooter, has made just 31.6 percent of his 3-point attempts as he plays through a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

McRae said he started asserting himself more on offense because he realized that's what the team needed.

``Seeing Trae struggle a little bit and with the news that Jaronne would be out the whole year, I felt that somebody had to step up on the offensive end,'' McRae said.

Tennessee's entire team must step up soon to have any hope of meeting preseason expectations.

The Vols have bounced back from slow starts before. They dropped three of their first four league games last year and ended up tied for second in the SEC with a 10-6 conference record. The last Tennessee team to start 0-3 in SEC play went on to reach the 1998 NCAA tournament.

``There's always a sense of urgency, but I think there's a difference between urgency and panic,'' Martin said. ``For us, it's not panic mode but a sense of urgency to want to get back in stride.''

This game represents a reunion of sorts for Martin and Mississippi State coach Rick Ray, who worked together as Purdue assistants from 2006-08. Mississippi State, which has just seven healthy scholarship players, won its first two conference games before falling 75-43 to Alabama on Wednesday.

``I know Cuonzo Martin, and they're going to compete,'' Ray said. ``We better be ready to get out there and compete. This isn't going to be an X's and O's situation. This is going to be about this: Are you ready to play competitive basketball?''

The Vols must be ready as well.

A loss would give them their worst SEC start in nearly two decades. A victory would back up their confidence that they can rebound from a slow start for a second straight season.

``This can still be turned around,'' McRae said, ``and I think we will.''


AP Sports Writer David Brandt of Starkville, Miss., contributed to this report.

Quick Links

Sam Dekker happy to be with Wizards, back on court again following trade


Sam Dekker happy to be with Wizards, back on court again following trade

Injuries had limited Sam Dekker to only nine games this season with the Cavaliers, who he joined just this past summer in a trade. He hadn't played in a month. Yet, with only nine players available after Otto Porter Jr.'s injury on Monday against the Pacers, head coach Scott Brooks was left without much of a choice.

So, Dekker was summoned off the bench to make his debut with Washington, the third team he has called home all within this calendar year. Though the game amounted in a loss, Dekker's start with the Wizards could not have gone much better.

They instantly went on a 19-0 run to climb back into the game and Dekker played his part in it. He scored on a dunk, had two steals, a rebound and an assist. 

For Dekker, after missing weeks due to a left ankle injury, it was just good to get back out there.

"There was definitely some rust to knock off," Dekker said. "Our trainer was laughing at me. He said 'I've never seen someone drink their water so fast in a timeout.' My bottle was gone."

The dust will ultimately settle, but it has been a tumultuous few days for Dekker. He was still getting adjusted to the Cavs organization when on Friday night his name popped up in trade rumors. His phone started buzzing with "hundreds" of messages from friends and family.

At first, it looked like Dekker was going to Milwaukee, back to his home state and not far from where he starred at the University of Wisconsin.

"I didn't answer to any of them because I did not feel like I was going to Milwaukee," Dekker said. "Something was telling me that was not the case. It just didn't make sense in my head. So, I was like 'no way.' "

Sure enough, Dekker's gut feeling was proven correct. Soon after he was tied to Milwaukee, full details of the trade were released. It was a three-team deal and he was off to Washington, the fourth team in his young career.

The 24-year-old has been traded three times now. That's a lot of moving for he and his wife, Olivia.

"This is the third time I've made her move, so that's no fun. I feel terrible about that," he said. "But she's been awesome. She's been keeping me grounded through all of this."

Dekker said the first order of business after he was dealt to Washington was finding a sitter for his dog, Riggins. He had a 6 a.m. flight the next morning. 

Now, he is in the process of breaking a lease in Cleveland and looking for a new place in the Washington area.

"There's a lot more to it than people understand. They think we just put a new jersey on," Dekker said of getting traded.

Dekker's time with the Wizards has been a whirlwind so far. Things will calm down and, as he says, it all comes back to basketball.

"The one constant is playing hoops. Last night, to get on the court finally, that is one thing that feels like home," he said.


Quick Links

John Wall making progress but his status, along with Otto Porter's, in doubt vs. Celtics

John Wall making progress but his status, along with Otto Porter's, in doubt vs. Celtics

The Wizards look ahead to their first meeting of the season with the Boston Celtics on Wednesday with two starters considered day-to-day with injuries.

John Wall missed their last game, against the Pacers on Monday, with bone spurs in his left heel. Otto Porter Jr. left the game with a right knee contusion.

The Wizards held a light practice on Tuesday that featured a film session and a walkthrough. Porter only participated in the film session. Wall watched film and then went through a workout guided by assistant coaches afterwards.

"We will find out tomorrow," head coach Scott Brooks said about their status.

The answer will likely come shortly before the game starts. The Wizards do not have a scheduled shootaround.

Wall's absence on Monday marked the first game he's missed this season due to injury. He did not play last week against the Hawks because of personal reasons.

The heel injury is something Wall has been dealing with on-and-off for a long time.

"He fights through a lot of things. He's done this with his heel for four, five, or six years - I don't even know, long before I was here," Brooks said. 

"He just fights through it. He's done, along with our staff, has done a good job of monitoring it. It flared up, but it's calmed down. We just have to always be on the lookout."

Wall was also sick in addition to working through some off-court matters. But the fact he went through an individual workout would appear to be a good sign he can return on Wednesday against the Celtics.