Maymon's return boosts Vols' basketball hopes - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Maymon's return boosts Vols' basketball hopes

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Cuonzo Martin can easily recall the best nights of sleep he's had since coming to Tennessee.

They were the two nights this spring after Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes each announced they would return to school next year instead of entering the NBA Draft.

"I slept great those nights," a smiling Martin said at Tuesday night's S.H.O.T. clinic at Cleveland High School. "But of course, it's because I thought those guys both made the best decision for them."

McRae calls himself a different player and person than when he first arrived in Knoxville three years ago, and credits that transformation to Martin.

He's excited to see what he can do with another year of seasoning, but even more excited to see what his team can do.

"My main focus is trying to get to the tournament and go deep in the SEC tournament," McRae said. "There's no personal goals. It's just team goals at this point."

Of course, McRae and Stokes aren't the only key pieces back this year for the Vols.

Big orange best Jeronne Maymon was boxing out campers and knocking down jumpers with the rest of his teammates this week at the Raider Dome, finally back on the court after a medical redshirt year.

"I'm definitely ready to go," said Maymon, who missed last season with knee problems. "I'm ready just to get back on the court with my teammates and get back out in front of the fans."

Martin said Maymon has been working the rust off since returning to team workouts two weeks ago. While he moves without pain, his stamina still needs a little work.

"It's great for our guys to have him back out," Martin said. "He's doing a good job and moving well, but the big thing for Jeronne is just to maybe lose about 10 pounds. We'll get that conditioning under his belt and he'll be fine."

Maymon was a second-team All-SEC selection as a junior two years ago after emerging as one of the top rebounders in the league.

However, he had surgery on both knees last summer and ran into complications in his recovery. The Vols were finally forced to shut him down for the season in January.

"It's very tough when you're making a decision like that, but I had faith the coaches were focused on what was in my best interests," Maymon said. "It was tough on me and my family, but everything happens for a reason.

"I'm just doing my best to stay positive and keep pushing."

Martin said the decision was the right one "to keep Jeronne healthy for the next ten years," not just his final one in Knoxville.

It was a difficult adjustment at first, but proved to be a key life lesson for the psychology major. He learned to embrace the chance to see the game from a different angle and help coach his teammates.

"It's tough for any guy who has been playing since he was six or seven years old, then all of the sudden your senior year you are expecting great things and you lose it to injury," Martin said. "But I thought he did a great job handling it and he did a tremendous job staying focused in the classroom."

Now Maymon's job is to make up for lost time, and he'll have plenty of help in doing it.

McRae, Stokes and highy-touted in-state recruits Robert Hubbs and Darius Thompson will join Maymon with the goal of helping Martin finally break through his NCAA Tournament ceiling at Tennessee.

"Right now I'm feeling better about our team than I've ever felt being in school," McRae said. "We're just trying to gel together and get that team chemistry and build from there."

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