It's worth noting that the legion of critics who dismiss the Rocky Top League summer basketball program doesn't include the guys who play in it.
One of RTL's biggest supporters is Tennessee junior power forward Jeronne Maymon, a 6-foot-7, 255-pounder who significantly elevated his game last June. In the RTL title game Maymon hit 11 of 14 floor shots and 8 of 9 foul shots en route to a team-high 30 points as Choice Spine knocked off The News-Sentinel to cap an unbeaten season. Maymon wasn't facing token opposition, either. The opposing center was former Vol Wayne Chism, Tennessee's best low-post player of the past 10 years.
In addition to helping develop his game, the Rocky Top League enabled Maymon to develop his chemistry with Choice Spine teammate Trae Golden, who is now Tennessee's starting point guard. That chemistry has helped them work together beautifully in the early portion of the Vols' 2011-12 season.
In the exhibition opener versus Carson-Newman Golden produced 14 points, Maymon 10. In exhibition No. 2 versus LMU Golden recorded 22 points, Maymon 11. In last Friday's regular-season opener against UNC Greensboro Golden registered 29 points, Maymon 15.
Most of Maymon's points have come off assists by Golden, and several of Golden's baskets have come off of screens set by Maymon. Clearly, the RTL season helped the Vol teammates develop a chemistry that continues to this day.
"Yeah, definitely," Maymon said. "It really helped strengthen our communication and our trust in one another. Whenever I run the floor he says he's going to get me the ball, and I always say I'm going to get him open on the screens."
Though understandably thrilled with Golden's play to date, Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin also is pleased with Maymon's effort.
"Jeronne's a good player. He'll be one of the better players in this league at his position because he's physical," Martin said. "For me, Jeronne's gauge is not how many points he scores — how many shots he takes or makes. He's a guy that can impact a game, and I think he's really our anchor on defense. He can guard smaller guys, guard bigger guys.
"He's improving his shot. He can go off the dribble and make plays. I don't like to use the phrase but he's kind of like a point forward because he's more of a pass-first guy."
Even being a pass-first guy, Maymon showed some scoring ability around the basket Friday night, hitting 6 of 8 shots.
"I think it's me finding my spots and me taking my time," he said. "The previous games I was going like 2 for 5, 2 for 7. I was rushing myself. I told myself I needed to slow down and it would come."
After two solid exhibition games and a quality opener, Maymon believes his new-found consistency is easily explained.
"Just getting prepared in my mind before the games and having God with me, night in and night out," he said. "I visualize it, then go out there and put in the work on the court. Plus, my teammates help me out. They always find me when I run the court, and Coach has put me in position to score the ball."
Maymon isn't shy about using his rugged 255-pound frame to full advantage in the paint. He clearly loves the physical aspect of the game.
"I want to just continue to be physical, continue to be the dirtiest player on the floor," he said. "Not the dirtiest as far as technical fouls and nasty play ... but just being mean, rugged, the toughest player out there ... taking charges, making open shots and making free throws. That's what I'm trying to do."
Maymon got a taste of winning last summer, combining with Golden to lead Choice Spine to a 6-0 record. If Golden remains as hot as he has been thus far, the Vol duo could taste a lot more wins this winter.
"I knew he was going to play like this," Maymon said. "I seen it in practice, seen it in Rocky Top. We talked about it. This is our year, and we ain't going to let nothing stop us."