The in-state rivalry has become an annual must-see event. Look for two much-hyped freshman guards -- the Vols' Scotty Hopson and the Tigers' Tyreke Evans -- to collide in the latest renewal.
Coach: Bruce Pearl (4th season) 2007-08 record: 31-5 SEC record: 14-2 (1st) NCAA tournament: Sweet 16
*Returning starter **Junior college stats ***High school stats
The Vols' backcourt will find its way by going through a Maze
There were nights when Bobby Maze would ride the team bus at Hutchinson(Kans.) Community College, wheels spinning in his head. "Things gotta getbetter," he'd say to himself. "Things gotta get easier." It wasn't that he waslanguishing on the court; far from it. Maze, a 6' 2" point guard who hadbeen dismissed from Oklahoma after clashing with coach Jeff Capel his freshmanyear, would be named a 2007-08 NJCAA All-America. The problem was that glaringJ in the award's name. "Watching the whole season of college basketballon ESPN was tough," Maze says. "I'd go into this small house after practice withnothing to do. I was just so angry."
These days? Not so much. Since arriving in Knoxville last spring, Maze quiteliterally has been singing a different tune. In June he recorded a freestyle rapsong, a thankful (and expletive-free) ode to his new teammates that he posted onYouTube. (Sample lyric: "And you can't get me out of my rhythm/At the five,holler at my man Wayne Chism.") "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," says Maze."I'd been dreaming of being in a situation like this."
The only one who might be more excited about Maze's arrival is Volunteerscoach Bruce Pearl, who will lean heavily on the transfer to settle a backcourtin transition. Last year's star shooting guard, Chris Lofton, graduated and isplaying professionally in Europe; last year's point guard, Ramar Smith, wasdismissed from the team in May; freshman Daniel West, who was seen as apotential replacement for Smith, has yet to receive academic clearance; andjunior guard J.P. Prince, who might have been in the mix handling the ball,suffered a shoulder injury in late October that will keep him out for a month."We're a guards program, and we would have loved to have some more [of the]backcourt return," Pearl admits. "And you can't replace Chris Lofton, the bestshooter in the SEC. But I think we're very fortunate."
Indeed, the talent level is still the conference's best. Back is juniorWooden Award finalist Tyler Smith, who led the team in assists last year as aforward. The wildly athletic Scotty Hopson, a McDonald's All-American, willstart at the two.
It's Maze, though, who'll need to run the show. Tracked by Pearl's staff eversince he left Norman, Maze is confident he'll fit in better here than atOklahoma, and not just because he thinks he's matured: His coach at Hutchinson,Ryan Swanson, had been Pearl's assistant at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and runs thesame "flex" offense as his mentor. Which means for Maze, there's everyindication that this year's rides will be much smoother. -- Pablo S.Torre
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