Jones, who served as Bruce Pearl's associate head coach from 2005 through the staff purge that occurred on March 21, discussed the Vol hoops outlook during a break in Friday's a3 benefit golf tournament at Knoxville's Willow Creek Golf Club. He conceded that six of Tennessee's seven scholarship returnees are unproven.
"Only Cameron Tatum played a prominent role on our team last year among the guys that are returning," Jones said, "but it gives the people that were on the periphery of the rotation an opportunity to step up - guys like Kenny Hall, Jeronne Maymon, Trae Golden, Jordan McRae, Skylar McBee. It's time for those guys to step up and show their worth."
Interestingly enough, Hall, Maymon, Golden and McRae were rated 4-star recruits in high school. So was Tatum, and so was Renaldo Woolridge, another 2011 returnee. The only returning scholarship player who wasn't accorded 4 stars as a high school senior is McBee, who walked on two years ago and earned a scholarship with his hustle.
Tatum (298), Golden (93), McBee (93), Hall (50), Maymon (37), McRae (18) and Woolridge (13) combined for just 602 points last season - a total nearly matched by departed scoring leader Scotty Hopson (543 points). No wonder new head coach Cuonzo Martin says the 2011-12 Vols will be a defensive-minded team.
Based on recent meetings with Martin, Jones is impressed with Tennessee's new head man.
"A couple of days after he was hired me and him had a meeting at his office," Jones recalled. "Then we had another conversation at the Final Four, talked about some of the players and some of the issues. I had an opportunity to speak with him again at the (NCAA) Committee On Infractions hearing. He was there to lend a lot of support. I think he's a quality individual, and I wish him a lot of luck."
The key question is: Can Martin win consistently at Tennessee?
"It's yet to be seen," Jones said. "You've got to buckle it up, go out there and compete. I know he's come from a program in Purdue that has a track record of success. He did a good job at Missouri State. Based on all that he's overcome in his life, I wouldn't bet against him."
As for Jones, his career is in limbo at present. He, Pearl and former Tennessee assistants Steve Forbes and Jason Shay met with the NCAA last weekend to discuss recruiting violations they committed while working for the Big Orange. They won't know what penalties they'll incur for another few weeks.
Unflappable as always, Tony Jones is expecting a positive outcome.
"Something's going to be coming out in July about what my future plan is," he said. "I'm excited. The future is bright. Obviously, I'm happy about appearing before the Committee On Infractions and getting the hearing out of the way. I think we got the opportunity to get before a fair body of individuals, and I'm looking forward to it being adjudicated in the next few weeks."