Maze is Vols' MIP

There is no doubt that Tyler Smith is the MVP in Tennessee's basketball program. He clearly is the Most Valuable Player because he is the team's best scorer, best rebounder and best athlete.

Not quite so obvious is the fact that Bobby Maze is the MIP in Tennessee's basketball program. The junior college transfer is the Most Important Player because of his role. Unless he gets the ball up the floor and gets the offense going, Tyler Smith will never touch the ball. Moreover, Maze's high-energy leadership at the point elevates his teammates. In that sense, he is the most important player on the team.

"Bobby Maze is a guy that really understands the game of basketball," UT assistant coach Tony Jones said. "He's experienced. He knows when to pass and when to shoot. The thing I like most about Bobby is that he competes in practice each and every second he's out there. He wants to win every drill. He wants his team to win every contest.

"I see him being the leader of our basketball team and I think, when all is said and done, we're going to go as Bobby Maze goes."

Quality play from Maze is especially important since freshman Daniel West – penciled in as the No. 2 point guard – has been flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse and has not yet been ruled eligible for 2008-09. That leaves 6-8 J.P. Prince as the Vols' only backup plan at the point.

Before he can help Tennessee win games, Maze must win the trust of his coaches and the confidence of his teammates. Knowing this, he has been pushing himself to the limit each day in practice.

"Bobby has looked really good," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "And, fortunately, Bobby has done everything full speed. He competes in everything. From that standpoint, there hasn't been a big adjustment for him. That is very, very pleasing."

Maze says full speed is his only speed this year.

"I'm fighting harder than I've ever fought for anything in my life," he said, "because I feel like this is my chance and I can't let that slip away from me."

Actually, this is his second chance. He blew the first one.

After signing with Oklahoma University following a year at prep school, he missed the Sooner's first six games of 2006-07 with a broken foot. Once he rounded into shape, however, he wound up starting five of the last six games.

Academic problems aborted Maze's career as a Sooner after just one season, however, leaving him with an abundance of frustration and a shortage of options. Eventually, he chose to try and resurrect his career at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, one of America's top junior college programs.

"I was kind of shaky at first about going to junior college," he recalled. "I had to humble myself, realize that what I had (at Oklahoma) was all gone. It wasn't as flashy as before but the junior college league had a lot of talented players. I never thought I would see so many 6-8s, 6-9s and 6-10s that were good players. That league was one of the toughest."

Even in a tough league like the Jayhawk Conference, Maze averaged 20.7 points and 6.8 assists per game, earning MVP honors for the Western Division. He set a school record with 16 assists in a game against Barton.

Proving that timing is everything, Maze finished his season at Hutchinson just about the same time that Vol sophomore Ramar Smith, a two-year starting point guard, decided to transfer. Tennessee promptly offered the newly available scholarship to Maze, who promptly signed on the dotted line.

The fact Maze already has experience at the major college basketball and junior college levels should serve him well at Tennessee.

"There's no substitute for experience," Jones said. "It helps that he started in the Big XII at Oklahoma and that he played at one of the best junior colleges in the country. His coach at Hutchinson, Ryan Swanson, coached with us when we were at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, so Bobby knows our system. He's in a position where success can be his early and often."

Maze agrees that his brief stint as a Sooner should prove beneficial in his first season as a Volunteer.

"It helps a whole lot because I've done played in some loud environments," he said. "I've been around and I've played against some of the toughest point guards – Sherron Collins (Kansas) and Acie Law (Texas A&M) – that went to the NBA.

"I know what it takes to be a good point guard and what it takes to play in a pressure situation. I think my experience at Oklahoma definitely gave me an opportunity to know the game better."

And that's just one more reason Bobby Maze looms as Tennessee's MIP for 2008-09.

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