The 2012-2013 season for the Tennessee basketball team was a tough one for every individual involved. No player took pleasure in the team's first round National Invitation Tournament elimination that left the Vols on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
But beyond that, last season's difficulty was magnified for senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who had to sit through the entire roller coaster ride from the bench after being redshirted due to a left knee injury.
"Sitting out and watching the game that you love, seeing your teammates struggle at times, sometimes I just felt lost," Maymon said, "but I did the best I could from the bench, trying to keep the energy up whether we were winning or losing. I was just trying to keep the morale up on the bench."
But as November approaches, the 6-foot-8, 260-pound big man is prepared to play in the Vols season-opener against Xavier, a game that he says he will be "100 percent" for.
"I feel good," Maymon said. "I've been working out and lifting weights constantly in the gym, rehabbing early mornings, you know, I feel good. My body feels good – no pain, no nothing – so I'm ready to go."
As for that surgically repaired knee, it is not uncommon for a player to struggle mentally after undergoing such a lengthy rehab process, but Maymon said that the injury does not enter his mind when he's on the court.
"I'm good, I don't think about it," Maymon said. "I go out there and I just play. If you go out there and play timid that's how you get hurt. When you go out there and play hard, you don't think about it and you don't feel anything."
A big hurdle for a player returning from a year off is getting back into game shape and getting their conditioning back to an elite level, something that Maymon has already begun this offsesason with Vols strength and conditioning coach Nicodemus Christopher.
“I’m conditioning in different ways,” Maymon said. “I do a lot of bike and swimming pool with my physical trainer and then when I’m with Nicodemus I do run the hills and do things of the sort. When I’m on the court playing open gym with Jarnell (Stokes) I always tell him ‘Get me better today,’ so when he runs the floor I gotta chase after him so he doesn’t get a free open layup - so it’s all about getting better.”
The year off has not hampered the Madison, Wis. native from improving his play in the eyes of head coach Cuonzo Martin.“His shot is really improved,” Martin said. “The biggest key with his shot is that he is shooting well now, but going into games he has to shoot with confidence. His comfort level is taking guys off the dribble, scoring around the rim, facing up and making plays, but to have that confidence and maintain that level of confidence to shoot shots in game situations and take big shots down with one minute left in the game is key.
“I think he’s a little bit better in certain areas as far as making passes and decision making. I thought that was the one area he needed to improve in, his decision making in situations, because he is one of our better playmakers and he’s done a good job thus far making decisions with the basketball and making plays. He looks better than ever as far as I’m concerned.”
According to Maymon, his skills on the court are not the only things that have improved in his down time.“I think I’m more mentally prepared, I’ve tried to slow the game down,” Maymon said. “As of now, I’m not as explosive as I was but I think I do a really good job of slowing the game down and I think that helps me with my passes and me getting to the hole and seeing different things that I didn’t see before. Plus, sitting out a whole year really helps me visualize the game better.”
And as for that explosiveness, Maymon is not worried and said it will come back as the season progresses, giving him an advantage from his perspective.“As the season goes along I’ll continue to gradually get stronger and faster,” Maymon said, “and I think that’s a good thing because while everybody else is staying the same, I think I’m gradually going to improve.”
Maymon is expected to join a starting five that will likely include Stokes, Jordan McRae, Antonio Barton and Josh Richardson.