KNOXVILLE -- Jeronne Maymon simply smiled.
Trae Golden realized it was a chance to do something he's wanted to do since his childhood.
The Tennessee basketball players might have had different reactions when they saw Duke pop up on the Volunteers' schedule, but they share the same perspective.
"It's a great test for our team to see where we're at, to test where our heart is, to test where our head is," Maymon, the junior forward, said last week of the Vols' date with the sixth-ranked Blue Devils today in the Maui Invitational's opening round. "It's a great opportunity. Hopefully we go out there and take advantage. We're buying all into Coach [Cuonzo] Martin's system, and we believe."
UT has cruised past two inferior opponents, which they won't likely see their first two days on the islands. The Vols, who have been in Maui since Thursday, would play either No. 10 Memphis or No. 17 Michigan on Tuesday.
Not that anybody is looking past mighty Duke, the 2010 national champions with Mike Kryzyzewski, the winningest coach in the men's game.
"When we found out Duke was in the field, we wanted to play Duke," said Golden, the sophomore point guard who's scored 46 points and dished out 20 assists in UT's first two wins. "Growing up as a kid, I've always wanted to play Duke. I told myself I wasn't going to Duke, I wanted to play Duke and North Carolina."
Martin, UT's first-year coach, has acknowledged the conversations he's had with his team about the perception. The Vols were picked 11th in the Southeastern Conference and are a clear underdog in a loaded Maui field. That doesn't win or lose games when the ball is tipped, though.
"They read a lot of it and they see a lot of it," Martin said. "How do you know we are a last-place team? It's only because you read it. You still have to go and play the game, you have to go and compete. We think we can be successful as a program.
"I like to think that Tennessee is viewed alongside any other top program in the country. I really, sincerely think that. Tennessee just has a new coach and a new team. We aren't just going to Maui to vacation, we are going to compete and win ball games."
Winning against a talented Duke team won't be easy, but the Vols are relishing the opportunity to prove and learn more about themselves.
"It's a big opportunity to show what we can do," said freshman guard Josh Richardson. "We've been underestimated a lot this season, so I'm excited to get it going and show everybody what we're capable of. It's pretty much been our motivation. It's been a lot of drive for us."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...