Jeronne Maymon’s latest setback could well set his Volunteers out of the NCAA tournament picture.
The school announced on Sunday Maymon will redshirt the 2012-13 season, ending weeks of debate over whether he should fritter away his final year of eligibility, only to participate in conference and postseason play. The senior forward, who has not practiced this season because of a left knee injury, will return for a full fifth year instead.
The decision was a no-brainer, albeit a debilitating blow.
Maymon has a future in professional hoops—be it in the D-League or someplace overseas—if he chooses to pursue one. Returning prematurely from the injury, as Maymon has already done once before, would only complicate his journey and jeopardize his pro stock. Maymon underwent an arthroscopy on his knee in June, then suffered a setback in his recovery in November. He played sparingly in Tennessee’s tour of Italy during the summer, but hasn’t practiced with the team since.
Tennessee was set to reunite Maymon, who posted nine double-doubles and led the Vols in rebounding (8.1 per game) as a junior, with sophomore standout Jarnell Stokes. Stokes made an immediate impact as a second-semester rookie last season, bullying teams on the block and earning a spot on the All-SEC freshman team. Maymon and Stokes had figured to form one of the SEC’s most physically imposing frontcourt duos, but Maymon’s redshirt postpones that combination one season.
The tradeoff dampens, if not dashes, Tennessee’s NCAA tournament hopes this season while brightening the outlook for next, when the Volunteers will return key pieces from the current roster and introduce a heralded recruiting class headlined by Robert Hubbs. In the meantime, expect more of the same rugged play from the Vols, minus the one player capable of pushing the team over the proverbial hump.
As one of college basketball’s worst perimeter shooting teams, Tennessee is tailored to espouse a rough-and-tumble style of play. The Volunteers win generally unpleasant games by controlling the boards, protecting the rim and scoring around the basket however possible. That ugly brand of basketball has led to an underwhelming 8-4 start, marred by a pair of consecutive road losses—first to Georgetown, then to Virginia—in which Tennessee failed to eclipse 40 points.
Maymon’s game is not a cologne. He wasn’t going to make Tennessee’s unsightly identity any less unattractive. He would have, however, upped the win expectancy for the Vols by adding another talented, blue-collar player to a team with the frontcourt personnel to force opponents out of their comfort zones. That value alone made the senior leader a difference maker for this group.
Tennessee still owns one of the nation’s better rebounding rates (43rd best) to complement an interior defense befitting of an NCAA tournament squad. The Vols, though, would become elite on the defensive glass with Maymon in the middle, and history shows elite rebounding teams usually find themselves a spot in the Big Dance regardless of other preexisting weaknesses.
For a one-trick pony to qualify for the top horse show, that pony better perfect its lone trick. Likewise, one-dimensional teams like Tennessee need to be great, not just good, at that dimension to compensate for other weaknesses.
With Jeronne Maymon completing a first-class rebounding unit, the Volunteers had the wherewithal to muscle their way into the field of 68. Insert a third guard into the starting lineup and extend Kenny Hall’s minutes instead, and suddenly Tennessee’s go-to trick loses its luster.