Pearl's pure point

For the Tennessee Vols, finding a true point guard has been almost as challenging as finding the Holy Grail, finding Jimmy Hoffa or finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

That's why UT head coach Bruce Pearl is so thrilled to have Bobby Maze playing lead guard for the 2008-09 Vols.

"It feels good knowing you can put the ball in his hands and he's going to make plays," Pearl said following Saturday night's 114-75 blowout of Chattanooga in the season opener. "He's a pure point guard."

Maze's numbers vs. the Moccasins were pure gold – 12 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and only 1 turnover in 28 minutes running the team. He was a major reason the Vols set a program record with 32 assists.

"I'm pleased with the assists," Pearl said. "We had a positive assist/turnover ratio with all but three guys. Certainly, Bobby being 10 and 1 was significant."

A 6-2 transfer from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, Maze also registered 2 steals while forcing Chattanooga point guard Keyron Sheard to commit 6 turnovers.

"Bobby has been terrifically consistent," Pearl said. "I've been most impressed with his on-the-ball defense."

As one who is constantly working to improve his defensive abilities, Maze was awfully pleased to hear that last comment.

"I always took pride in my defense but there's a way Coach Pearl wants you to play defense," he said. "He changes defenses so much that you really have to pay attention.

"In my case, I try to distract the other point guard and make it as hard as I can on him. That gives the guys in back of me support ... makes the game a little bit easier for them. I try to wear 'em (opposing point guards) down as much as possible."

Except for C.J. Watson (2002-06), Tennessee's point guards the past two decades have been mostly wing guards playing out of position. A prime example is Ramar Smith, a converted shooting guard who started at the point in 2006-07 and 2007-08. When he decided to transfer last spring, the Vols found themselves even weaker than usual at the lead guard spot.

"What an urgent need we had at point guard," Pearl recalled. "No one in the country had a bigger need at point guard. Well, Steve Forbes goes out and gets the best junior college point guard in the country, who was really a D-1 guy at Oklahoma."

After a year (2006-07) as a Sooner and another (2007-08) at Hutchinson, Maze jumped at the opportunity to finish his college career as a Vol.

"When I found out I had an opportunity to play with the guys I have in the locker room, I knew there wouldn't have been a better situation for me, especially coming in and playing right away," he said. "It's the most amazing feeling in the world."

Still, he had an even better feeling Saturday night when he realized how much talent was surrounding him in the Vol lineup.

"It's the greatest feeling in the world," he said. "I can throw the ball almost anywhere. Scotty Hopson ... you can throw the ball almost anywhere and he's going to dunk. J.P. Prince also. When you play with guys like that, it makes the game easier for me.

"At Oklahoma we had some good basketball players. Here, you have some NBA-caliber players. We also have very athletic players and players that can shoot. And we're a deeper team than when I was at Oklahoma. We can play any guy on our roster and I have confidence that they will perform."

And, for one of the few times in the past 20 years, Tennessee can have confidence that its point guard will perform.

"Bobby has a nice handle," sophomore teammate Cameron Tatum said of Maze. "He likes to drive it in, (draw) the defense and then kick it out and run the play. He's really head-smart. He creates a lot of offense."

Pearl agrees, noting that "I'm really pleased with the way he's run the ball club."

Maze is even more pleased to be running the ball club.

"I think it went great," he said of the Vols' 2008-09 debut. "None of this would've been possible without players like Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, Cam Tatum and all of those great guys. They made it easier for me.

"Any time I have 10 assists, I have to give credit to the shooting guards and the small forwards and the rest of the players on the team for finishing. I'm just glad to have those types of players to play with."

And they're just as glad to have a pure point guard.

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