Since the departure of C.J. Watson after head coach Bruce Pearl’s inaugural season on Rocky Top, the Vols haven’t gotten All-SEC production from the point-guard position. Pearl is hopeful that this year’s team will get more consistent and effective play out of the floor general.
At the team’s media day, he noted that last season the point-guard play hurt the team’s performance, especially down the stretch in games.
“I didn’t trust my point guards enough to allow them to win or lose games,” Pearl said. “I didn’t put the ball in their hands very often in late-game situations.”
Last year, junior college transfer Bobby Maze and Josh Tabb were the primary point guards. On Oct. 28, Tabb withdrew from UT to move closer to his ill mother, leaving Maze and junior college transfer Melvin Goins as Pearl’s only primary ball handlers.
Full offseason of work
Maze, a 6-foot-3-inch senior from Suitland, Md., was the starter in 28 out of the team’s 34 games last season. He averaged 8.2 points and 3.2 assists per game after averaging 20.7 points and 6.8 assists per game for Hutchinson Community College, earning first-team NJCAA All-American honors.
Pearl believes Maze didn’t connect well with the team last year because he didn’t enroll in school until the summer and had little time creating chemistry with his teammates.
“I think (Maze) is going to do really well this year,” Pearl said. “I think we’re going to get stepped-up play at the point guard from Bobby because of all that he’s had an opportunity to do in (a full) offseason.”
A challenge for Maze
After spending his freshman season at Ball State, Goins transferred to Mount San Jacinto College in California where he averaged 17.2 points and 4.9 assists per game last season. Pearl said the 5-foot-11-inch Goins is a better passer and defender than Maze, but Goins underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 6, which has given Maze the advantage over him for the starting spot.
“(Goins) will still challenge (for the starting position),” Pearl said. “He is a ‘pass-first’ point guard (and) a terrific playmaker. … He’s probably a little bit more creative for others in the half court (offense) than (Maze) is.”
Goins is confident he can spread the ball around to all of the Vols’ offensive weapons.
“I’m going to get everyone involved,” Goins said.
Defending the point guards in the SEC is a major task, but Pearl believes Goins is up for the challenge.
“I want to stop (our) opponent from getting points,” Goins said. “I love playing defense.”
Goins developed his “pride” for defense back home in San Diego, Calif., from his high school coach and his father, who was a junior college defensive back in football.
Regardless of who is named the starting point guard, Maze and Goins look to see significant playing time on the court this season. The Vols are looking to rebound from last season’s disappointing first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament, and Pearl said the play of the point guard will go a long way in determining how far the team will advance in March.