Filling the leadership role with Maymon out for season
Cuonzo Martin on Jeronne Maymon's redshirt
In a sports world that craves immediate success more than ever, I hesitate to write: "Wait till next season."
But that's what came to mind when Tennessee men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin on Monday discussed the decision to redshirt Jeronne Maymon, an All-SEC caliber player who hasn't played since undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Forget what a boost Maymon's return might have given the Vols in the second half of the current season. Think what he could do for next season's team.
That's not to write off a season that hasn't reached the halfway mark. But next season's team with Maymon should be better than this season's team with Maymon would have been.
Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes is the wildcard in the scenario. Never mind that's he not remotely ready for the NBA. But he wouldn't be the first collegian to prematurely venture into the pros.
My guess is he won't, and Maymon's return should be a factor in that. Stokes probably has been affected more by Maymon's absence than anyone else. His numbers should go up dramatically when again paired with another prominent post player.
Such speculation wouldn't matter if Cuonzo Martin were in his fifth season as UT's coach and hadn't made it to an NCAA tournament. In that case, next season might be too late; the loss of Maymon would be devastating.
However, Martin is just getting started. He came tantalizingly close to making the NCAA tournament last season after finishing second in the SEC. His second Tennessee team is 8-4 with no bad non-conference losses as it enters SEC play Wednesday night against Ole Miss.
Don't expect the team to be jarred by the latest Maymon news. It already has played 12 games without him and has probably hardened itself to the possibility of going the rest of the way sans Maymon.
Moreover, it's not as though he has vanished from the premises. He remains a part of a team that values his leadership. He's like having another coach, guard Jordan McRae said at Monday's media conference.
This team still has an upside. McBee and Trae Golden are both mired in shooting slumps (a combined 5-for-36 from the field in the last three games). Imagine what just average production from them could do for the offense.
For example, consider McBee's last outing against Ole Miss. He made five of 11 3-pointers in an overtime loss last March.
And remember what Golden did before his three-game shooting slump. He made 12 of 25 shots, had 12 assists and
scored 41 points combined in back-to-back victories over Wichita State and Presbyterian.
While McBee and Golden have struggled of late, guard Josh Richardson has picked up the slack, averaging 14.6 points and totaling 44 points in the last three games. Contrast that with the 37 he scored in the previous six games.
Factor in UT's depth, even without Maymon, and you have a team equipped to at least make a run at the NCAA tournament. If it falls short, just "wait till next season."