KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin rattled off all the areas in which Jeronne Maymon helps the Volunteers.
Turns out those also might be what UT is missing Monday night.
Maymon, the Vols' valuable junior forward, continues to rehab a lingering injury to his right knee, and Martin said before Friday afternoon's practice that UT is preparing as if he won't play in the National Invitation Tournament second-round game against Middle Tennessee.
"He does a really good job facilitating that offense," Martin said of his most consistent scorer and leading rebounder. "[He's] kind of a point-forward type guy. He can kind of maneuver and go off the dribble and make plays for a big guy. Pick-and-pop and attack the rim, gets big rebounds, physical, really good defender.
"You can't lose a guy like that and expect to be clicking on all cylinders. Then you can't expect guys who haven't played a lot to step up and be Jeronne Maymon. It just doesn't happen."
UT (19-14) survived its NIT opener without Maymon last Tuesday against Savannah State, but the Blue Raiders will be a much sterner test if the 6-foot-7 bruiser can't play. In his absence, center Yemi Makanjuola and wing Josh Richardson scored 10 points apiece. It was just the second double-figure scoring game for both freshmen this season.
Freshman forward Jarnell Stokes led UT with 13 points but allowed Savannah State's Rashad Hassan to go off for 20 points and 14 rebounds.
"It was different," Stokes said of playing without Maymon. "I had to step up and make some plays."
The Tigers, the regular-season champions of the same Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference that produced NCAA tournament giant-killer Norfolk State, scored 28 points in the paint and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds for 17 second-chance points.
"I thought we did OK," Martin said. "We didn't play great. That's why you have starters and role guys. But the guys will be OK, and they'll find a way to get it done."
Guard Skylar McBee said the Vols took some positives from overcoming the absence of a key piece.
"It's a confidence booster," he said. "He brings a lot of rebounding and a lot of scoring. I thought we played well, but definitely with him added in, it's going to be even better."
McBee went further, guaranteeing that Maymon would play if he's healthy enough to do so.
"Jeronne is rehabbing," Martin said. "He's on the bike and the treadmill. He hasn't been on the floor since the Ole Miss game [in the SEC tournament two weeks ago]. We're going as if he's not playing.
"You like that [toughness], but you have to make sure he's healthy first and foremost. Now he won't be 100 percent, but at the end of the day, you'll rest when the season's over. If he can help us, he'll help us, but we have to make a decision and do what's best for Jeronne."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...