KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee guard Trae Golden's roller-coaster junior year has culminated with the biggest twist of all.
Tennessee announced Tuesday that Golden will transfer at the end of the spring semester. Golden, a two-year starter, had placed third in the Southeastern Conference with 3.9 assists per game and was the Vols' third-leading scorer with 12.1 points per game this past season. He was named SEC player of the week twice while helping the Volunteers finish 20-13 and earn a second straight NIT berth.
"I had a great three years at Tennessee, but I plan to play my senior year somewhere else this fall," Golden said in a statement released by the university. "I really appreciate the staff and all the great support from Vol fans. I'm definitely going to miss my teammates. I want them to have nothing but success in the future."
Golden's decision creates uncertainty for a program that figured to enter the 2013-14 as a potential Top 25 team. Tennessee returns first-team all-SEC guard Jordan McRae and second-team all-SEC forward Jarnell Stokes, who both chose to return to school rather than entering the NBA Draft. The Vols also welcome back Jeronne Maymon, a second-team all-SEC forward in 2011-12 who missed the entire 2012-13 season with a knee injury.
In the April 27 statement announcing his decision to return for his junior season, Stokes said he was "looking forward to playing with Jeronne, Jordan, Trae and my other teammates again."
That makes Tuesday's announcement a bit of a surprise. The news comes just three days after Tennessee revealed it had released freshman guard Travon Landry from his letter of intent before he ever enrolled. Landry has since signed with New Mexico State.
"We want nothing but the best for Trae," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said in a statement released by the university. "Everyone associated with our program wants to see him be successful, and we wish him well."
Golden's transfer comes after an inconsistent junior season that reflected his team's up-and-down fortunes.
After getting off to a hot start, Golden endured a shooting slump in late December and fell out of the starting lineup in early January. He strained his right hamstring Jan. 29 and sat out back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Georgia.
Once he regained his health, Golden heated up again and moved back into the starting lineup to spark Tennessee's late-season surge. The Vols won nine of 10 games before ending the season with losses to Alabama in the SEC tournament quarterfinals and to Mercer in the NIT's opening round.
Golden scored at least 20 points in five of Tennessee's last 10 games, including a career-high 32 points in a four-overtime victory at Texas A&M.
Although he had a scorer's mentality, Golden served as the Vols' main point guard the last two seasons. Someone else will have to fill that role in his absence. The Vols' incoming freshman class includes Darius Thompson, a 6-foot-4 combo guard who has the ability to play the point. Another incoming freshman for Tennessee is Robert Hubbs, a 6-5 shooting guard rated by Rivals.com as the No. 23 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting class.