THERE WERE nightswhen Bobby Maze would ride the team bus at Hutchinson (Kans.) CommunityCollege, wheels spinning in his head. "Things gotta get better," he'dsay 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 basketball onESPN was tough," Maze says. "I'd go into this small house afterpractice with nothing to do. I was just so angry."
These days? Not somuch. Since arriving in Knoxville last spring, Maze quite literally has beensinging a different tune. In June he recorded a freestyle rap song, a thankful(and expletive-free) ode to his new teammates that he posted on YouTube.(Sample lyric: "And you can't get me out of my rhythm/At the five, hollerat my man Wayne Chism.") "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," saysMaze. "I'd been dreaming of being in a situation like this."
The only one whomight be more excited about Maze's arrival is Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl, whowill lean heavily on the transfer to settle a backcourt in transition. Lastyear's star shooting guard, Chris Lofton, graduated and is playingprofessionally in Europe; last year's point guard, Ramar Smith, was dismissedfrom the team in May; freshman Daniel West, who was seen as a potentialreplacement for Smith, has yet to receive academic clearance; and junior guardJ.P. Prince, who might have been in the mix handling the ball, suffered ashoulder injury in late October that will keep him out for a month. "We'rea guards program, and we would have loved to have some more [of the] backcourtreturn," Pearl admits. "And you can't replace Chris Lofton, the bestshooter in the SEC. But I think we're very fortunate."
Indeed, the talentlevel is still the conference's best. Back is junior Wooden Award finalistTyler Smith, who led the team in assists last year as a forward. The wildlyathletic Scotty Hopson, a McDonald's All-American, will start at the two.
It's Maze, though,who'll need to run the show. Tracked by Pearl's staff ever since he leftNorman, Maze is confident he'll fit in better here than at Oklahoma, and notjust because he thinks he's matured: His coach at Hutchinson, Ryan Swanson, hadbeen Pearl's assistant at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and runs the same "flex"offense as his mentor. Which means for Maze, there's every indication that thisyear's rides will be much smoother.
*JUNIOR COLLEGE STATS
‚Ä†HIGH SCHOOL STATS
at Middle Tennessee
*Old Spice Classic(also Georgetown, Wichita State, Gonzaga, Maryland, Michigan State, OklahomaState)
The in-state rivalry has become an annual must-see event. Look for twomuch-hyped freshman guards—the Vols' Scotty Hopson and the Tigers' TyrekeEvans—to collide in the latest renewal.
Bruce Pearl (4th season)
Big scorer Chris Lofton has graduated, but Luke Winn thinks first-year manScotty Hopson could fill the void.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
Play School Maze ran an offense identical to Pearl's in junior college last year.