Jeronne Maymon usually drinks seven bottles of water per day. For that reason, his refrigerator door was the perfect place to stick the 2013-14 Tennessee men’s basketball schedule when it was released. One date — Nov. 2 — had been circled in ink for months.
“I put it up there so it could be a constant reminder that I’m finally back,” Maymon said.
The senior forward singled out Saturday’s exhibition game against Division II Florida Southern for good reason. It was his first game back after missing last season with a nagging knee injury that refused to heal. He had not played in a game at Thompson-Boling Arena since March 19, 2012. When the waiting got to him, when moments of doubt surfaced, the schedule reminded him of his return.
Cuonzo Martin talks after 105-80 exhibition win over Florida Southern
“I was very nervous,” Maymon said after UT won 105-80. “My hands were cold. I went out there, and I missed a couple wide open layups like I said I probably would.”
He wasn’t the only UT player who took a while to warm up.
Darius Thompson started at point guard in place of injured senior Antonio Barton, who is recovering from a lower left leg injury sustained at a practice Oct. 25. Thompson, a freshman, and Jordan McRae, a shooting guard who played out of position most of the game, took turns running UT’s motion offense. Coach Cuonzo Martin said his team uses no set offensive plays during exhibitions. The combination of those factors led to UT’s 11 first-half turnovers and a Florida Southern lead that grew as large as three.
But Florida Southern guard Kevin Capers and his fast-paced offense couldn’t stay hot. Capers scored just four points in the second half after leading all players with 20 in the first.
Eventually, UT turned a game that stirred a bit of anxiety amongst the announced crowd of 13,994 into a blowout win. Other than walk-ons, sophomore guard Quinton Chievous was the only Vol who didn’t play; Martin declined to specify why.
Junior forward Jarnell Stokes credited his thinned frame for his dominant performance. He totaled 27 points and 10 rebounds. McRae added 21 and 9. Freshman guard Robert Hubbs lived up to the hype, scoring 17 points during his game-high 29 minutes.
And then there was Maymon.
“He looked kind of rusty,” Stokes said. “But you’ve got to understand this is his first game back.”
Maymon scored six of his eight points on free throws, pulled down seven rebounds and distributed four assists. He was upbeat after the win, yet far from thrilled.
“Just missed some assignments on defense, you know,” he said. “Not closing out with the right feet. Missing block outs. Things like that. I’ll adjust and be ready for the next game.”
He would have made an impact even if he missed every shot, according to Florida Southern coach Linc Darner. The former Purdue teammate of Martin factored UT’s combination of Stokes and Maymon into his comparison between the Vols and No. 10 Florida, the team that beat Florida Southern 110-88 in an exhibition game in Gainesville on Friday.
“The size and length of Tennessee is a lot more than what Florida has,” he said. “Inside they (Florida) have one big, where Tennessee has two really good bigs ... It will be hard to double team them. And when you do go double team, who is going to rotate? It’s going to be a smaller guy. If they shoot and miss, they have an easier chance at an offensive rebound. With the new rules, the way they are supposed to call it this year, it will be interesting. How are you going to box both of those guys out in a game?”
Stokes agreed with that analysis.
“Jeronne is one of the things we were missing last year, just a guy who understands the game,” he said. “If I’m open, he will find me. He’s not a selfish player. And he will help me rebound. That’s really all you can ask for.”
Maymon said his hands had not been cold before a game since the first time he played for Martin. The nerves, he said, will fade. The schedule on the refrigerator isn’t going anywhere.
“It has to stay there,” he said. “We’ve got plenty more games to play. It’s going to be up there as long as the season.”