The competition wasn’t much to Tweet home about, but the four-game tour of Italy Tennessee’s basketball team took this month was revelatory, for a lot of reasons.
Some observations, based on conversations with coach Cuonzo Martin and some of his staff:
• Now that he’s playing without pain, Jeronne Maymon may inflict more pain on others.
Consider that Maymon, the 6-foot-7, 265-pound senior forward, was already capable of going for 30 points and 20 rebounds on a given night despite a couple of balky knees. Now consider he underwent offseason surgery on both those hinges. Maymon got a little run in Italy — it was an ankle sprain suffered in a pickup game, not his knees, that kept him out of the first two games — and Martin noticed the big man’s increased mobility.
“He played with great energy, moved his feet well defensively, and ran the floor well,” Martin said.
Martin also talks a lot about how Maymon, who played little his first two seasons after transferring from Marquette, has gained confidence simply by proving to himself he can play at the highest level of Division I basketball. Last season he drew considerable attention after a 32-point, 20-rebound performance against Memphis in the Maui Invitational, and he went on to average 12.7 points and 8.1 boards and shoot 56 percent from the floor.
Good health. Good frame of mind. Body even the Hulk would envy. Yep, Tennessee opponents had better lace up their kicks real tight when they joust with Maymon this season.
• Don’t be surprised to see the Vols toss a 1-3-1 zone defense into the mix in 2012-13.
You read that correctly. No, Martin a staunch proponent of the man-to-man, hasn’t gone soft. Rather, in trying out the 1-3-1 in Italy, he confirmed what he already knew — that he has the personnel at his disposal to run it effectively.
“Length and athleticism,” Martin said, “to disrupt the flow of an offense.”
Tennessee fans wanting to get a quick crash course on the 1-3-1 should look at West Virginia or Michigan game tapes when coach John Beilein was on the bench. The success of Beilein’s teams have enjoyed running the 1-3-1 has sparked a resurgence of its use.
The 1-3-1 is used to trap the ball. It’s a bit of a gambling defense in that a team that runs it is betting it can trap the ball handler and prevent him from passing over the top to a post player who would usually have a much smaller guard defending him.
With 11 players in the 6-5 to 6-9 range, the Vols can expect to smother and confuse their opponent’s ball handler, especially if the zone is used as an element of surprise.
• Freshman Armani Moore can play.
Offseason oral surgery prevented the 6-foot-5 Moore from getting on the court much in the spring, but once he got to Knoxville, he worked long hours after practice with new Tennessee strength coach Nicodemus Christopher to make up for lost time.
In Italy, Moore showed that he’s got solid ball-handling skills, isn’t afraid to dribble against aggressive three-quarter court pressure, can rebound and can shoot better than Martin and his staff originally thought.
“I couldn’t even tell (a lack of) conditioning was a factor,” Martin said of Moore’s high-energy performances in Italy. “Armani’s very crafty with the ball. He does a good job using his size. He can get guys on his hip and score. He’s also got the medium range pull-up jumper and he can knock down 3-pointers.
Moore could be an active presence at the top of a 1-3-1, but as he gains strength in the weight room, he can also be a long-armed lockdown guy in the man-to-man. And if he can give the Vols 10-15 minutes a game of worry-free backup point guard, he’ll quickly earn his scholarship.
• D’Montre Edwards takes ownership of missed shots.
Edwards, a 6-6 junior college transfer, has a good chance to start at the three spot. And if he does, will anyone be able to get a rebound away from the Vols? Coupled with the Bash Brothers, Maymon and 6-8, 255-pound Jarnell Stokes, Edwards gives Tennessee a strong rebounding lineup.
“He definitely has a great shot at being a starter because of his ability to rebound and defend,” Martin said.
Tennessee coaches were impressed with Edwards’ willingness to go after rebounds out of his area and battle for offensive boards. He averaged eight a game in Italy.
Like Moore, Edwards is capable of making a 3-pointer, but he’s smart enough to realize he can get into the lane and make pull-up jumpers all day. Why that shot has becoming a dying art defies logic, because it’s close to unstoppable.
Martin wants Edwards, who weighs 210, to use the two-and-a-half months he has before the season starts to bulk up. At 220, and given his willingness to battle, Edwards could become a bad man.