MILAN, Italy — Some things haven't gone perfectly as planned in the careers of Tennessee scholarship seniors Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall, Jeronne Maymon and Dwight Miller.
Both McBee and Hall came to UT to play for Bruce Pearl and watched him wash out underneath an NCAA tidal wave following their sophomore seasons.
Maymon chose Marquette as a top-100 consensus recruit, but barely reached Christmas break of his freshman year before reversing fields and coming to Knoxville. He too watched Pearl wash away.
Likewise, Miller chose to begin his collegiate career at Pittsburgh, traveling from the warmth of his native Nassau, Bahamas, to bone-cold Western Pennsylvania, before transferring to UT after his freshman year. He never played a game for Pearl, sitting out the 2010-11 season due to NCAA transfer rules. By the time he became eligible, the nameplate on the head coach's office read Cuonzo Martin.
"We've been in pretty much every situation you can imagine," McBee said Wednesday, waiting in Gate B of Milan Airport for a 10-hour flight to Atlanta. "It seems like just yesterday we were coming into school and now I'm in my last year, fixing to graduate. It flew by."
In a fitting twist of irony, a perfect beginning appears to have tipped off the final year of four peculiar college careers. The Vols' senior leadership was awarded a golden opportunity for their perseverance.
The team's recently completed 10-day, four-game tour of Italy will ultimately stand as the preface of Tennessee's 2012-13 season. Maymon noted that it has "set the tone" for his senior year.
"It was a time for us to grow together and bond together," Maymon continued, "At the same time, it opened up a new door to some relationships."
In other words, the old men got to know the new kids in town.
Throughout the overseas excursion, freshmen Armani Moore and Derek Reese chatted up the upperclassmen. Junior college transfer D'Montre Edwards integrated seamlessly with teammates."
For the seniors, including walk-on Rob Murphy, the trip offered a sort of preseason retreat. Their college days will be over sooner rather than later and each knows it.
Nothing has come easy, but it has come to a good station.
McBee and Maymon are projected starters on a team pegged for the NCAA tournament. Hall, returning after a midseason suspension for conduct detrimental to the team in 2011-12, is an integral piece of one of the top frontcourts in the country. Miller's story is being derailed by a bum knee, but he hopes to contribute this season.
Looking back, it's the unforeseen detours of their careers that can make the final year that much more gratifying.
"Through all the adversity and all the change, that's when you stick with things that are familiar to you," McBee said. "I was familiar with these guys. Through all the times we've had — the uncertainty, the change — I think it's definitely brought us closer together. We trusted each other and had each other's backs."
Maymon calls the relationships between the seniors "bonds that will last forever," saying, "That road we took made us stronger."
And after leading from Rome to Florence to San Marino to Como during the past 10 days, that road now heads for senior year.
"We're all unique in our own way and when we come together we make a unique team," Maymon said.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn