On paper, the 2013-14 Tennessee men's basketball team looks to boast the most talented roster third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin has had at UT. But talent doesn't produce success without good coaching – just ask last year's Volunteer football team.
One roadblock Martin's team faces early in the season is where to plug in all of that talent.
"I think the biggest key is really getting guys to see where they fit in the program, and putting them into a position," Martin said Wednesday before UT's second official practice of the year. "Our ones and twos and threes are very similar, our fours and fives are very similar, so it's just a case of getting guys to where they fit best to help the team."
Martin shared that this season breeds more roster flexibility "without a doubt" than his first two years on the job, but he enters preseason practice still figuring out where – and if – some of the pieces will fit.
"I think we've got about four guys, maybe five guys who are trying to figure out where they best fit on the team," he said. "Because they're talented enough to play, it's just where they fit. Because, you know, you can't play everybody."
The third-year coach also addressed the never-ending issue of depth, openly wondering which of his budding playmakers he could rely on to come off the bench.
"For us, having a strong bench is the biggest thing right now," Martin said. "We can't have Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon playing 35-minutes-plus a game.
"We have the personnel to do it, but it's a matter of putting guys in a position to be successful."
The Maymon effect
Fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon is one player whose place on the team is etched in stone. The All-SEC power forward is making his long-awaited return this season after redshirting through an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign.
His position as a leader on this Vols squad is unmistakable in practice.
The 22-year-old's yelling, cheering and constant teaching moments make an obvious impact on his teammates.
"It's good to have him back," Martin said. "Just his feel for the game, his leadership on the floor, his ability to defend, work hard and make plays. The guys love having him around."
Martin said he sees a major change in the way his big man sees the game after a year of manning the bench in street clothes.
"When he sat out, he really learned to appreciate the game," Martin said. "He saw some of the things we see as coaches, and that can always help."
Just as well, his reunion with junior forward Jarnell Stokes has the Vols coach excited. Teams won't be able to double and triple up as often on Stokes, which happened in seemingly every game last year in Maymon's absence.
"You're talking about two of the best rebounders in the country, regardless of what league," Martin said. "It's hard to double-team Jarnell because of the fact that you've got another guy on the other side who can rebound and make plays."
"Score the ball"
Not surprisingly, Martin lauded the defensive efforts of incoming freshman Robert Hubbs III, Darius Thompson and A.J. Davis as the biggest keys to their respective seasons. But he took an exception to Hubbs, a former five-star Rivals recruit who has shown elite scoring ability.
"I think for Robert, score the ball," Martin said. "All three of those guys can compete on the defensive side, but I think in Robert's case it's also score the ball inside and out."
Martin has seen flashes of prowess in multiple aspects of Hubbs' game, but had a direct calling for what needs to improve heading into the season.
"He's a tremendous athlete around the rim, he can make shots from the perimeter, but I think the next phase for Robert's game is the in-between – putting the ball on the floor and making plays."
Forget the expectations
Often overshadowed by the football program, hopes are high for the hoops' squad this season with SEC Player of the Year runner-up Jordan McRae leading a promising roster.
Those lofty expectations, including ESPN ranking the Vols as the 24th team in the nation this preseason, may get to the heads of the 18-to-22-year-olds who narrowly missed out on the NCAA Tournament the past two years.
Martin said he wants his team to avoid the distractions as much as possible.
"I think the most important thing is not to get caught up in what other people are saying," Martin said, "because we know what we see every day in practice, we know what we have to do to be successful."