It's safe to say last season was senior guard Jordan McRae's breakout year.
It was a season that saw the 6-foot-6 scorer compile nine 20-point games in SEC play, finish runner-up in the race for SEC Player of the Year and most importantly, become the catalyst behind a second half turnaround of the Tennessee Volunteer basketball team which fell just short of an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Orange Mamba – a nickname that surfaced during McRae's showcase in the second half of the season – however, had an injury that coincided with his hot streak.
It also may have been an injury that led to the addition of a mystical orange shooting sleeve that McRae wore on his right arm for the rest of the season.
"I dove on the floor during practice and hurt my elbow, so I started wearing it because anytime it would get hit, it would hurt, so I was just wearing it to protect my elbow throughout the year," McRae said. "I wasn't thinking about the points or anything like that, it just kind of happened like that."
McRae averaged 13.7 points per game prior to that elbow injury, but once the game against South Carolina on Feb. 10 – the debut of the sleeve – happened, a new McRae was born.
Through 11 games with the sleeve, the Midway, Ga., native averaged 19.7 points per game, including a five game stretch where the then-junior scored more than 20 points.
That stretch also contained 34- and 35-point performances against Kentucky and Florida – Tennessee's biggest rivals – respectively.
"Yeah, there was a huge difference," senior forward Jeronne Maymon said about the difference between a sleeved McRae and a non-sleeved one. "The circumstances were different as well because Jordan had to do what he did last year, so I think the sleeve just kind of worked it's way in, I don't think it had anything to do with it."
Junior guard Josh Richardson added: "I didn't know that happened, but I'm glad it happened because he saved us in a lot of games."
Richardson is one of the few other players on the Vols roster that sports a shooting sleeve on the court, and for him, the combination of nylon and spandex on his arm has become a natural feeling.
"In my junior year of high school, I actually broke my elbow, so I just started wearing a sleeve," Richardson said. "I didn't wear one my freshman year, but coming into my sophomore year I said, 'Man, I got to get my mojo back.' It's just comfortable for me, I've gotten so used to shooting with and playing with it."
Even with all the success of bearing that orange Adidas shooting sleeve, McRae said he wouldn't be wearing the sleeve to start the season.
Richardson said he isn't worried the preseason All-SEC guard won't be adorning the spandex sleeve.
"I'm not worried about anything with that dude because he can score sleeve, no sleeve, headband, no shoes, whatever, that dude can score the ball," Richardson said.
Maymon, however, is a little more superstitious in regards to the sleeve than his fellow teammates.
"If I was him, I'd stick with the sleeve and still be Mamba and still be who he is," Maymon said.
Sophomore guard Galen Campbell added: "It might be his little superpower a little bit, you know, Orange Mamba and what-not. He might need to wear that sleeve."
Campbell even ushered a prediction, adding, "He'll probably end up wearing it again."
McRae, however, did acknowledge the stat and said he's got it in on the shelf if it's needed.
"Well," McRae said, "if I'm having a slump, I'll wear the sleeve and see if I can get out of it."