Tennessee fell short of its potential last season.
A late stretch that included 10 wins in 11 games wasn’t enough to push the Vols into the NCAA tournament.
Cuonzo Martin’s program sent two players to the SEC all-conference squads. Jordan McRae cracked the first team and Jarnell Stokes made the second team. The Vols beat multiple tourney teams throughout the season, including Wichita State and Florida.
So the NIT -- and a first-round exit following a loss to Mercer -- was a disappointment for the program.
Some of the team’s struggles were tied to the absence of Jeronne Maymon. The forward was a force for the squad in 2011-12 (12.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG). Complications from offseason knee surgery, however, cost him the 2012-13 season.
But Maymon, according to Brendan F. Quinn of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, expects to be full strength next month:
“I should be 100 percent by the end of July,” he said Saturday.
Maymon spoke with optimism confined by experience.
He was supposed to be 100 percent prior to the Vols’ trip to Italy last summer. He wasn’t.
He was supposed to be 100 percent by preseason workouts. He wasn’t.
After missing the beginning of the season, he was supposed to be 100 percent by midyear.
“It’s been very frustrating,” said Maymon, an All-SEC second team selection in 2011-12 after averaging 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a junior. “I’m really impatient right now. I want the season to be here and I want to be healthy.”
There is no longer any swelling in Maymon’s knee, and while running and jumping are still chores, both are at least pain-free. His current goals include losing some weight, strengthening his left quadriceps and improving his conditioning.
“You’ve got to be patient,” he said. “Sometimes I’m at home and I’m upset and angry. I can’t just go out there and play in an open gym anytime and do things I used to do. And when I am able to play I still think I can do certain things without having my strength, but I can’t.
“Right now I don’t really know the level that I’m at — it’s hard to put a number on it. I’m doing really good, but I can be so much better when I get my strength back and my ability to jump and can move without thinking.
“If I’m diligent in my work, everything is going to be fine.”
Former Memphis guard Antonio Barton, who could handle that role, will finish his career with the Vols next season. And he should be eligible to play immediately after graduating from Memphis this summer and transferring to Tennessee last month. Robert Hubbs, a 6-5 wing ranked 29th in the 2013 recruiting class by RecruitingNation, will join the team next season, too.
Stokes considered the NBA but ultimately decided to return to school -- a wise decision. If Maymon regains his old swagger, the Vols will have one of the nation’s most talented frontcourts.
There are still questions at point guard. But the addition of Barton has diminished those concerns.
Kentucky will probably enter next year as the favorite to win the NCAA championship and the SEC. Florida has top-10 talent.
But Tennessee should be in the SEC mix, too -- especially if Maymon is completely healthy.