By Frank Gale
The weeks following the end of the football season saw basketball take a back seat to the football coaching situation. Now that the new staff is in place, the Vol Nation can turn their attention to UT basketball.
Despite the lack of attention by the majority of the Big Orange Nation, the basketball programs have continued their march towards the upcoming SEC campaign, playing a challenging schedule.
The Vols, at first glance, should have been in great shape. They are returning the majority of players from last year’s squad, and heading into this season, appeared ready for a break out season, especially with a down SEC. That still might happen but the absence of senior power forward Jeronne Maymon has caused a disruption to the Vol offense.
Jarnell Stokes, the super sophomore who lifted the spirits on Rocky Top last season, has found without Maymon things have been different for him thus far this season. Keep in mind, Stokes is a student athlete that is just completing his second semester at UT. Double teams are something new for Stokes, especially after being one of the “go to” options last season.
Maymon was reported to be on the mend after suffering a “setback” involving an injury to the same knee he hurt last season. The early goal for a return around the end of December might have been a little optimistic. Not really the news the Vols, and especially a struggling Stokes, want to hear.
The Vols changed things up a bit last Thursday night in their win against No. 23 Wichita State. With Stokes in foul trouble for most of the game, Vol point guard Trae Golden took over and led the team to victory, 69-60. The Vols now have something positive to build on as they move forward without a healthy Maymon.
The Lady Vols, under new head coach Holly Warlick, have been on a roll since their early season loss in Atlanta. Holly has the ladies playing hard and has managed to get the most out of them when they take the court.
Despite their recent success, the next few games will be challenging for the Lady Vols with defending national champs Baylor on the road and current No. 1 Stanford in Knoxville. At least the SEC competition will not overwhelm them when they start league play after the holidays.
Football bowl season will be without our orange clad warriors again this year. It makes it doubly hard to see Jim Butler’s Commodores headed for post season play for a second straight season. With a new staff in place at UT, look for things to be a tad different in the future. In the meantime, we will root for all the SEC teams that will play in the post season, including Vandy.
In closing, I wish one and all a very Merry Christmas and many Big Orange victories in 2013. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle and his column appears regularly.)