KNOXVILLE – Given that Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon had played sparingly his first two seasons, including nine games at Marquette as a freshman, he was a bit of an unknown commodity as he began his junior year last November.
It took him exactly three games to become a known commodity.
Against Duke in the Maui Invitational, Maymon produced a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double. That was impressive, but what Maymon did one game later against Memphis was jaw dropping. After Maymon pounded the Tigers with 32 points and 20 rebounds, ESPN announcers raved, Tennessee fans rejoiced and first-year Vol coach Cuonzo Martin knew he had a good old-fashioned, blue-collar competitor on his hands.
There aren’t a lot of players in college basketball who can score 32 points in a game, and there are fewer still who are either capable of or willing to grab 20 boards. To prove that wasn’t a fluke, Maymon threw a 19-rebound game at Auburn, giving him the top two rebounding performances (Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also snared 19 against Louisville) in the Southeastern Conference last season.
During Tennessee’s media day last Thursday, this question was posed of Martin and some members of his staff. What does it say about a guy who’s capable of getting 20 rebounds?
“That was impressive,” Martin said. “There aren’t many guys in college basketball that can go and get rebounds like Jeronne can. He has the ability to carve out space and he can also go get big rebounds in traffic.”
“It says that he’s relentless,” director of basketball operations Houston Fancher said. “An absolute warrior that doesn’t accept being boxed out. A lot of people will cower once they get boxed out; after the first contact, they’re done. Not Jeronne. He absolutely accepts that as a challenge to beat somebody for a rebound.”
“Good rebounders get rebounds they’re supposed to get,” said assistant coach Kent Williams. “Great rebounders get rebounds out of their area. And that’s what Jeronne does. It’s definitely a game changer when you’ve got a guy who can dominate the boards like that.”
How does Maymon, who’s undersized in relation to most of the players he faces in the paint, do it? With a game he calls “jagged,” as in the opposite of smooth.
“When I say jagged, I mean I don’t care what it looks like,” Maymon said. “I’m gonna get it done no matter how it looks. Just good out there and play hard. I don’t need to look pretty.”
That mindset was instilled in Maymon at an early age.
“My dad’s always told me that tough guys get rebounds,” he said. “It’s just about being a dog, like coach Martin says. Going in there among the trees.
“I’m not the biggest guy on the court. I’m not the fastest. I can’t jump the highest. I just make sure I box out strong and go up and get the ball strong with two hands. Most people don’t do that.”
Maymon finished fifth in the SEC in rebounding last season (8.1 rpg), and if boards were all he contributed to the Vols, he would probably have still been their most valuable player. But that jagged game he talks about has a few wrinkles.
Maymon’s an accomplished ball handler who Martin sometimes used as a press breaker. He’s more than capable of taking a larger defender out on the floor, showing a quick ball fake and scoring off the dribble. He’s got a solid face-up game that bears watching this season, when he promises to take it past the 3-point line. “I think you might see a few of those,” Maymon said.
Maymon underwent surgery on both knees after last season, and though he says he feels more “flexible” as a result, he hasn’t been allowed to return to full-bore practice. He played in only two of the Vols’ games during their August exhibition tour of Italy and has sat out a lot of their offseason practice sessions.
That’s for good reason, says Martin, who qualifies as an expert on knee surgery. During his playing career at Purdue, he underwent four of them-three on his left knee alone.
“I know the process,” Martin said. “It’s a long season. This kid has a future (playing) beyond college. And we’re trying to win games. So we’re being cautious.”
Martin says no one should read anything into Maymon taking it slow in the offseason.
“His game is way up here more than anything else,” Martin said, tapping his forehead. “It’s not like he has a 40-inch vertical leap. He can dunk the ball, but his game is facilitating, defending, rebounding, doing the dirty work. Making plays. He’s all over the place. It’s not like you’ve seen him lose jumping ability and his game is affected. If he loses some off his lift, his game is still the same.”
Maymon is eager to return, but he’s willing to wait for the right time.
“I’ll definitely be going full throttle when the season starts,” he said.