One of the big keys – literally and figuratively – to Tennessee’s 2013-14 basketball season says he’s healthy and ready to go.
Jeronne Maymon, rated No. 69 among college basketball’s top 100 players heading into the 2012-13 season by one respected analyst, says the chronic knee problems that caused him to miss all of last season are no longer a concern.
"I feel good,” he said during a Monday news conference. “I'm working out and lifting weights constantly. I'm in the gym rehabbing early in the morning. I feel good and my body feels good. No pain or anything like that. I'm ready to go."
To say Tennessee missed Maymon last season would be a gross understatement. The Vols missed the 12.7 points per game he averaged as a junior in 2011-12. They missed the team-best 8.1 rebounds per game he contributed in 2011-12. They missed his toughness and his leadership. They even missed his 6-foot-7, 260-pound frame. Not having to contend with Maymon's bulk, opponents constantly double-teamed fellow post Jarnell Stokes, limiting his effectiveness.
Ultimately, Maymon’s absence was a key reason Tennessee struggled out of the gate, losing 10 of its first 21 games. The Vols finally gave up on replacing Maymon, switched to a four-guard lineup and won nine of their next 11 games. Still, the fast finish couldn’t nullify the slow start, and Tennessee wound up missing the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. Seeing the Vols falter without him was difficult for the team-oriented Maymon.
"It was really tough – sitting out and watching the game that you love, and seeing your teammates struggle at times,” he said. “I just did the best that I could on the bench to try and keep the energy up. Whether we were winning or whether we were losing, I just tried to keep the morale up on the bench."
Although he gathered some rust during his layoff, Maymon believes he gained some benefits during the hiatus.
"I think I'm more mentally prepared,” he said. “I think the game has slowed down for me. I'm not as explosive as I was but I think I've done a good job of slowing the game down, which has helped me with things like my passing and seeing different things that I didn't see before. Plus sitting out an entire year, it really helps me visualize the game better."
Asked if he expects to regain the explosiveness he lost during his time away from the game, Maymon nodded.
“I think I most definitely will,” he said. “As the season goes along, I'll continue to gradually get stronger and faster. I think that is a good thing. While everyone else is maintaining, I'm getting stronger and improving."
Many athletes play tentatively after injuring a knee, fearful of re-injury. Maymon insists that isn’t a problem in his case.
“I'm good,” he said. “I don't think about it. I just go out there and play. When you play timid that's how you get hurt. When you go out there and play all-out you don't think about it. You don't feel anything."
After missing a season of basketball, Maymon believes he appreciates the game more than he did before the injury. In that regard, it may have been a blessing.
“You have to go through things to be the person you want to be,” he said. “I think this really helped me to understand how hard I have to work to get back where I need to be. Also, how much I need to cherish this because it is not going to last forever. I just need to stay focused and ready to go."
Tennessee’s head coach believes Maymon is, in fact, ready to go.
“He looks like he did when he played at a high level,” Cuonzo Martin said. “I think he is a little bit better in certain areas, as far as making passes and decision making…. He looks better now, as far as I'm concerned. His shot has really improved, too."
Maymon tested the knee in recent weeks against Tennessee teammates, along with such standouts as former Vol and first-round NBA Draft pick Tobias Harris.
“He is banging. He is physical and aggressive,” Martin said of Maymon. “He played against Tobias this summer and some NBA players like Mike Beasley. So he has played against and done a great job against those guys. Again, he looks like the same old Jeronne to me."