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July 1, 2009Ryan Callahan
Special to VolQuest.com
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Bobby Maze stepped to the perimeter Wednesday night at Bearden High School and knocked down the clutch shot to which he has been accustomed to hitting.
Now, it's just a matter of doing the same thing for the Tennessee men's basketball team.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Maze returns for his senior season looking to become the consistent point guard the Volunteers so desperately needed last year and rediscover the playmaking ability he showcased at every previous stop in his career.
He offered signs in the regular-season finale of the Rocky Top Basketball League that he's capable of doing both, scoring a team-high 45 points and sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer with 54 seconds left to complete his First Tennessee Bank team's late rally for a 127-122 victory over HT Group.
"Guards win games," said Maze, who came to Tennessee last year as a transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. "If you look at North Carolina and all of those teams, guards win games. With the game on the line, I've got to get the job done like I do out here."
The Suitland, Md., native, who started 28 of 34 games for the Vols last year, scored seven points in the final 1:22, including a pair of free throws in the closing seconds that iced the win.
"We only had lost our first game, and [Maze] single-handedly beat us," said Vols sophomore forward Renaldo Woolridge, one of two Tennessee players on the HT Group team. "I'm proud of him. He's working hard."
It was perhaps the most impressive performance of the six-game season for Maze, who entered Wednesday as the league's third-leading scorer (33.4 points per game).
"It's not fun when you're down 10 with two minutes to go," said Maze, who also had six assists. "But when you get a chance with the game on the line, and the coach and the team believe in me and put the ball in my hands, they're looking to me to get it done. I'm just glad we got the job done."
He was nowhere near as satisfied with his first year at Tennessee. Playing at a slower pace than in the previous three years under coach Bruce Pearl, the Vols flamed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a loss to Oklahoma State.
Lackluster point-guard play was part of the problem.
"I was really disappointed because I'm a winner, and I know that I could have led the team to a better record," said Maze, who finished the season with the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Southeastern Conference. "But we did things differently last year. We've got the whole team back, and now it's time to get it done."
Maze finished an up-and-down season as Tennessee's fifth-leading scorer last year, averaging 8.2 points, along with 3.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds. He ended the year in a prolonged scoring slump, reaching double figures in points in only three of the Vols' last 13 games.
"It wasn't necessarily a tough adjustment [from junior college], but it wasn't all about me," Maze said. "It was about the team. Before, it was Bobby Maze and whoever. Here, it's the Tennessee Vols.
"This year, I know where I'm going to get all my shots and how the defenses are going to play me. I think that experience will help me."
The centerpiece of many of his former teams, Maze struggled to find his role in Tennessee's deep rotation.
"In previous years, things ran through me," he said. "Last year, we had Tyler Smith, [Wayne] Chism, J.P. [Prince]. You've got to take that into consideration. I mean, we played 10 guys."
Maze said he believes an offseason mostly spent sharpening his on-the-ball defense and working on his jump shot will solve most of the problems that plagued him last year.
His teammates do, too.
"You can tell from looking at him that he got better," Chism said. "He was trying to fit in last year. Every JUCO player coming in has to learn how to fit in at another level. Now, he's comfortable with everybody, and he's showing up to play."
Maze said he wants to develop into "the best point guard in the country" in time for his senior season "and show everybody who I really am." The way he sees it, he has no choice.
"This is my last year," Maze said. "I've got to do it."
Ryan Callahan is a sports reporter for The Daily Times in Maryville, Tenn.