There were two reasons head coach Cuonzo Martin seemed unconcerned when he announced prior to Wednesday's practice that Jeronne Maymon has suffered a "minor setback" that clouds his availability for the opening of Tennessee's basketball season:
1. The Vols begin with two games they should win handily without Maymon — an exhibition against Victory University (Nov. 5) and the regular-season opener versus Kennesaw State (Nov. 9).
2. The Vols have excellent post depth, even with Maymon sidelined.
Sophomore Jarnell Stokes, who made the Freshman All-SEC team last season, has improved significantly since then. Senior Kenny Hall, who missed the last nine games of 2011-12 on suspension, is back and looking better than ever. Sophomore Yemi Makanjuola has smoothed out some rough edges and appears ready to be a major contributor this season.
"We've got great depth. We really do," Jon Harris, who coaches Vol post players, said recently.
If the season opened today, Stokes and Hall would be the starting posts. Hall started 16 games last season and has 20 starts for his career. His preseason work has been so strong that he would be pressing for a starting job even if Maymon were healthy.
"Kenny has been playing well anyway," Martin said. "He's taken that spot; I think he's earned it, playing at the level he's playing. Kenny's played really well as of right now."
In addition to Stokes (6-8, 270), Hall (6-9, 232) and Makanjuola (6-9, 244), Tennessee can look to senior Dwight Miller (6-8, 240) and redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous (6-5, 205) for inside help. Despite his lack of height, Chievous is a scrapper who can bang with the big guys.
"I think he's earned some good minutes at the 4 (power forward) spot," Martin said. "That's where I thought he would play this year. He's better suited for the 4 spot because he can defend big guys, he can knock down 3-point shots and he can move without the ball, so it's tough for big guys to defend him."
Maymon, a 6-foot-7, 265-pounder, led Tennessee with 8.1 rebounds per game and a 55.8 field-goal percentage last season, while ranking second on the team at 12.7 points per game. He underwent offseason knee surgery and has been withheld from full-speed practice drills as a precautionary measure. Maymon suited up for last Wednesday's practice (open to the media) but did not participate. He did not attend today's practice, which also was open to media.
"Jeronne had a minor setback, so we probably won't have him at the start of the season," Martin said, subsequently repeating the comment when asked if the injury might require surgery.
The fact Maymon has not practiced all fall may be a blessing in that his teammates already have adjusted to his absence.
"Our big guys have been playing without him, so they've kind of got a feel for it," Martin said. "It's one game at a time, and you work from there."
Because Maymon is an animated and vocal player, his leadership abilities may be missed more than his scoring and rebounding during his absence.
"It's always tough when you lose that kind of guy," Martin said. "Obviously, he's not lost for the season but (it hurts) if you don't get out of the gate with him the first game of the season. His mental toughness and skill level obviously speak for itself but that type of leader doesn't come by every day."
Asked for a timetable on Maymon's return, Martin shrugged.
"I don't know," the coach said. "It's a matter of making sure he's ready."
Once Maymon returns to health, Harris suggests that Tennessee's inside game will be among the most versatile in the land.
"You're going to see some interesting lineups this year," the Vol aide said. "Kenny, Jeronne and Jarnell can play both spots, 4 or 5, so you'll see some interesting combinations with those guys because we can move 'em around."