No haze for Maze

Tennessee point guard Bobby Maze likes to rap, so maybe he could arrange a hip-hop version of Johnny Nash's 1972 mega-hit "I Can See Clearly Now." The title couldn't fit Maze any better.

Bobby Maze signed with the Vols after one year at Oklahoma University, a year at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College and an eye-popping stint in the 2008 Rocky Top Summer League. He was supposed to be an immediate star and lead the Big Orange to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

The problem was, Maze was in a haze when it came to running Tennessee's offense. He didn't know the scheme, didn't know his role in it and didn't know his new teammates or their tendencies. The result was a half-decent year that left many fans feeling he underachieved.

As he prepares for Year 2 on The Hill, however, the Maze haze has lifted and he's seeing things a lot more clearly than he did one year ago. That is evident in his preseason play this fall.

"I think Bobby has done a really good job of making the transition from junior college to Div. 1," UT assistant coach Tony Jones said. "He understands now what we want from our point-guard position. It was almost like on-the-job training last year. We kind of threw him into the fire coming from junior college. Even though he played one year at Oklahoma, playing juco and then playing in the SEC is a big jump."

Maze, a 6-2, 185-pounder from Suitland, Md., seemed to grow frustrated last season. This affected his offense and defense. He should be significantly better this season at both ends of the floor.

"He's doing a better job of understanding pressure," Jones said. "We think he's going to make a huge impact in our pressure defense, something we kind of backed off of last year.

"He's advancing the ball a little bit more, which is something we like to have our point guards do. Back in junior college he was more of a shoot-first, pass-second point guard. We've gotten him to understand that we don't mind him being aggressive offensively but we need for him to examine all of his options and make good decisions. He's been able to do that so far in the preseason."

Maze conceded that he is light-years ahead of where he was one year ago.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," he said. "I know where I'm going to get my shot. Last year, coming in late, I wasn't too sure. Now I know what I've got to do and I'm excited about this upcoming season."

Although he has exceptional quickness, Maze lost a step by being somewhat tentative last season. He's relying more on instinct and less on thinking this year.

"It's a lot easier now," he said. "I had all summer to work on it. I had a chance to watch a lot of game film. With a year in this system, it gives you a chance to know where guys are going to be on the floor and where you can get your shot. It's a lot easier."

The fact he has played a full season of varsity ball and an offseason of pickup ball with his UT teammates has given Maze a much better chemistry and camaraderie with them.

"It makes it a lot better," he said. "Everybody's getting a lot closer, and that's going to make this year a special experience. When I came in last year the other guys already knew what to do. I was trying to learn it, and that was difficult at times. Now I think we've all got it figured out."

Maze is being pushed this preseason by another juco transfer, Melvin Goins of Mount San Jacinto (Calif.) College. The 5-11, 195-pounder missed valuable practice time while recovering from minor knee surgery but should challenge Maze in the months to come.

"Melvin is a very strong physical specimen for a person of his size," Jones said. "He's going to help us in pressuring the ball. He's probably the best person out there as it relates to pressuring the ball."

The key is: Can he run an offense?

"He's going to be able to get the ball up the floor quickly, and he's going to be able to knock down 3-pointers off of ball reversal," Jones said. "You're not going to be able to let him sit out there. Melvin also is going to be very good at breaking down a defense and creating opportunities for others."

Tennessee's point guard play was a disappointment in a 2008-09 season that ended with a first-round NCAA Tournament loss and a 21-13 record. Given their complementary skill sets, Maze and Goins may be able to provide an upgrade at the position in 2009-10.

As Jones put it: "That's a pretty good dichotomy at point guard - to have one that's more offensively aggressive and one that looks to distribute the ball a little bit more."

VOLS 10TH IN AP POLL

Tennessee is ranked 10th in the Associated Press preseason 2009-10 college basketball poll, released earlier today. This is the fifth time in school history - second time during the Bruce Pearl era (2005-06 to present - that the Vols made the AP top 10.

Tennessee is ranked 11th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, also was released today.

Kansas, ranked No. 1 in both polls, visits Knoxville Jan. 10.

Two other SEC teams earned preseason rankings. Kentucky is No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 5 in the coaches' rankings. Mississippi State is No. 18 in the AP and No. 19 in the coaches poll.

Tennessee opens the exhibition portion of its schedule Friday at 7:30 p.m. when it hosts North Alabama. The Vols then host Lincoln Memorial on Nov. 4 before opening the regular season against Austin Peay on Nov. 13.


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