AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Kenny Hall heads into this season with an even greater sense of urgency than the typical senior.
Not only does this represent the final season of Hall's college career, it also gives the 6-foot-9 forward a chance to make amends. Hall was suspended for the last nine games of the 2011-12 season for conduct detrimental to the team. His absence proved critical when Tennessee just missed earning its seventh straight NCAA tournament bid.
Hall was reinstated to the team after the season, and he makes his official return Friday when Tennessee opens its 2012-13 campaign against Kennesaw State.
"I'm looking forward to it a lot," Hall said. "It's the beginning of the end. I'm going into my senior year, so this means a lot to me."
Hall will need to get off to a fast start to help the Vols overcome an injury to senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who recently had a setback in his recovery from offseason arthroscopic surgery to each of his knees. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin hasn't said exactly when Maymon will return, but the 2011-12 second-team all-SEC selection will at least miss the Kennesaw State game.
Maymon averaged 12.7 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game last season as the Vols finished 19-15 and reached the NIT. The Vols shouldn't have much trouble withstanding Maymon's absence against a Kennesaw State team that went 3-28 last season, but they could miss him quite a bit while playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off next week.
"It's obviously going to be important for me and my team to step up in the absence of Jeronne," Hall said. "He's a big part of our team."
The presence of Hall and 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes should assure that the Vols maintain a physical frontcourt even without Maymon. Stokes is a rising star who averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds after joining the team at midseason last year, while Hall provides plenty of toughness.
Hall averaged 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game last season. He also led the Vols with 1.0 blocks per game.
"He's a guy who plays well on both ends of the floor," Martin said. "He has great energy on the defensive side of the ball. He can block shots. He can rebound. He plays with energy, talks on defense. He's a guy that's much needed."
Since he last played for the Vols, Hall has changed his game in at least one respect. Hall says he's improved his jump shot.
The results aren't evident so far, as Hall missed his lone 3-point attempt Monday in a 99-57 exhibition victory over Victory University, a National Christian College Athletic Association school from Memphis, Tenn. Martin believes it's only a matter of time before Hall shows the benefits of his offseason work.
"With him, it's just a case of confidence," Martin said. "He can make that shot. He's really good at shooting the perimeter jump shot."
Hall and Stokes aren't the only frontcourt players who could have expanded responsibilities as the Vols await Maymon's return.
The Vols return 6-9 sophomore center Yemi Makanjuola, who provides defense and rebounding ability off the bench. Tennessee's frontcourt also could get a major boost from the addition of 6-5 redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous, the son of former Missouri star and first-round draft pick Derrick Chievous.
Although Tennessee's roster lists Chievous as a guard, he also can play power forward. Chievous was the Vols' standout performer in their exhibition game with 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and only one turnover. Martin complimented Chievous after the game for his non-stop motor and ability to defend taller players.
Chievous already demonstrates a knack for delivering offensive rebounds, as he had five of them against Victory.
"It's really just hustling and hard work," Chievous said. "You don't really have to be the biggest or the fastest guy. You've just got to have a lot of heart."
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