Tennessee Basketball Begins Preparation For ’13-14 Season Tuesday


Mar 16, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin during the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The word of choice that I would use to caption this photo of Coach Cuonzo Martin would be “AHHHHH!”

Don’t worry, coach, I’m as excited for the season to start as you are.

The Tennessee Men’s Basketball team will have it’s first practice in preparation for the 2013-14 season on Tuesday. The first practice of the season is always a special event, but this year it’s even more special.

Tennessee’s official athletic site, utsports.com, has announced that it will provide visitors an inside look at Tennessee’s first practice through a live steam. This broadcast will be the first of it’s kind at Tennessee and in major college basketball. Starting at 2:45pm ET, fans can log on to the website, pull up the stream, get a multi-angle view of portions of practice, and see interviews with Cuonzo Martin, and various visitors throughout the season. The lineup for Tuesday’s inaugural broadcast is Coach Martin, former Vol Skylar McBee, strength coach Nicodemus Christopher, and Chris Dortch. Dortch is the editor of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Tennessee is listed at #20 in the Blue Ribbon preseason top-25 poll.

Some coaches would be worried about the general public seeing their practices, but Cuonzo seems to be in full support:

"I haven’t heard of a program doing something like this, so we’re excited to be able to offer this inside glimpse to our fans…It’s not only great for the fans, but it also gives an opportunity for the families of our current players, as well as recruits, a chance to observe practice without making a trip to Knoxville. They can watch and listen in from wherever they are around the world."

There is a lot of excitement building up around the team as they return three All-SEC players, Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae, and Jeronne Maymon, who redshirted last year after missing most of the season due to injury. The Vols will also have a deep, talented supporting cast with Josh Richardson, Armani Moore, and newcomers Antonio Barton and Robert Hubbs III.

Tennessee has also been surfacing in many preseason top-25 polls, including the aforementioned Blue Ribbon poll, and on espn.com.

Though the “basketVols” are about a month away from meeting someone else on the hardwood, there are some key things that I will be looking for during practice.

Jeronne Maymon’s Return

Maymon missed all of last season with a left knee injury. His return will be huge for the team as he carries a heavy presence during games. During the 11-12 season, he was a 56% shooter and averaged close to 13 ppg. He also provided the large presence needed down low to go with Coach Martin’s physical style. To have some balance on the court, it will be important for Maymon to play on the level he was before his injury, and improve as the season progresses. His ability to penetrate in the paint will be a welcome addition to the court, and will draw attention away from Jarnell Stokes, allowing Stokes easier chances to score. The Tennessee staff has said during summer workouts that Maymon is close, if not 100%, and his conditioning has been going well.

Newcomers’ Roles 

Memphis transfer Antonio Barton could prove to be a huge part of the Tennessee offense as he is the first true PG that Martin has had since his time at UT. The opportunity to have a lot of playing time could help Barton hit his stride quickly and grow in Tennessee’s offense. Another major newcomer to watch for is freshman Robert Hubbs III. He is a guard who can score in a lot of ways. He is unselfish and a good decision-maker. Hubbs can play the 1, 2, and could even play the 3, depending on what offensive sets Tennessee will use. A big determining factor for these two players will be how well and how fast they pick up Martin’s system. I do think that because of the attention that will be paid to Stokes and McRae, both Barton and Hubbs will have successful seasons in Orange this year. Another name to watch will be Rawayne Ndiaye. If he can pick up the system and improve his ball handling, he could be an excellent go-to big man to give Stokes and Maymon a break.

The Offense 

With the Vols adding Barton and Hubbs to go along with Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, I’m curious to see what kind of offense we’ll see on the court. It wouldn’t surprise me to see sets with these four guards and Stokes or Maymon. I also wonder about the tempo of play and where most of the points will come from. Under Martin, Tennessee has been a physical team, trying to pound the ball inside first, then swing the ball out to McRae and the now former Vol, McBee. With all of these talented guards who can score consistently, I’m curious to see whether UT flips their old scheme, shooting from the perimeter to spread out the defense, then pushing the ball inside with Stokes and Maymon. We could even see a lot of both. Either way, I think Tennessee is poised to score a lot of points this season.

The Practice Environment 

The Vols have a lot of returning players, with a lot of experience. They’re facing their highest expectations since the Bruce Pearl era. It would be no surprise if Tennessee came into it’s first practice a little rusty, the first practice for any team is never too pretty. But the team should come out knowing what they have to work on and know what is expected of them. The Vols have just missed the last two NCAA Tournaments and it is important that they don’t miss out on the Big Dance this year. There’s no excuse to miss it this season with all of the talent on the roster. They just have to practice like they want to perform and get stronger each day. The environment of this first practice will go a long way to setting the expectations of each following practice, and it’s important that Tennessee gets off on the right foot.

Again, the first practice for the 2013-14 season will be on Tuesday, October 1st, and will be live-streamed on utsports.com. Tennessee opens the season on the road at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH on November 12th, but will have two home exhibition games before the regular season begins (11/2 vs Florida Southern, 11/7 vs Southern Indiana).