All eyes were on Jeronne Maymon, the fifth-year senior who appeared in a game for the first time since March 19, 2012.
Then, his running mate stole the show.
Fueled by 27 points and 10 rebounds from Jarnell Stokes along with a second half turnaround, the Tennessee Volunteers pulled away in their exhibition opener against Florida Southern in a 105-80 victory on Saturday.
After losing 15 pounds over the offseason, Stokes showed an added burst of explosiveness never before seen from the junior forward, dicing through the lane en route to an 11-for-13 shooting performance.
"I watch film from last year and I feel embarrassed, because I played so slow," Stokes said. "I was too tired to talk, and too tired to give screens. I definitely wanted to make sure I lost that weight and was ready to play."
Of course, Maymon's return didn't quite hurt. The two constantly fed off one another and served as a huge upgrade after Stokes played without his post partner all of last season.
"I'm just glad to have someone out there who is older, plays older, you know, he understands the game," Stokes said. "That was the biggest thing that was missing last year at that position. He understands the game."
Maymon scored six of his eight points from the free throw line, while adding seven rebounds and four assists in just 17 minutes of play. He admitted to some nerves right before tip-off.
"I had a lot of butterflies," Maymon said. "My hands were cold and I was trying to warm them up. I was just trying to go out there and play within the game."
Despite the jitters, Maymon was his usual physical presence down low as he bounced off defenders and pushed around the Mocs' undersized forwards.
"I'm still going to play my style of basketball," the 23-year-old said. "You can't play tentative. You can't play worried about getting hurt or anything like that."
The generously estimated 13,994 fans inside Thompson-Boling Arena saw a scare early on, as the Division II opponent hung around in a game that featured eight lead changes. Tennessee committed 11 first-half turnovers, more than Florida Southern (eight) had for the game.
But as the second half wore down, so did the Mocs. The Vols flexed their muscle in the post, amassing 60 points in the paint to Florida Southern's 32.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin lauded an extra effort defensively as the difference between the two halves.
"I thought our guys did a better job in the second half in really settling down on the defensive side of the ball," Martin said.
Preseason SEC Player of the Year runner-up Jordan McRae added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Vols.
Hubbs shines in debut
After starting 0-for-3 from the field with three turnovers, highly-touted freshman Robert Hubbs III drove the lane with 2:18 left in the first half and threw down an emphatic jam. It's safe to say that got things going for him.
"It was definitely a big lift," Hubbs said of the dunk. "I was like, 'Man, I have to hit this first shot, I have to.'
"And after that, my confidence goes from a little to a lot, and then I just get in my groove."
Hubbs would finish with 17 points in a team-high 29 minutes played, making seven of his last nine shots including three 3-pointers.
The chemistry with a veteran UT group will take some time to develop, but Hubbs' patience paid off and allowed him to find room both on the perimeter and driving the lane.
"At first I was a little nervous," Hubbs said. "But after that, my teammates kept getting me involved. They kept talking to me and encouraging me, and I just let the game come to me."
Senior point guard Antonio Barton missed Saturday's exhibition with an ankle injury after sitting out of practice all week.
Freshman Darius Thompson started in his place — going 4-for-6 shooting with nine points and four assists — but starting shooting guard McRae acted as the floor general for much of the contest.
A scorer at heart, McRae's sudden switch in practice this week caught Martin's eye.
"He's probably only spent three or four days at it since Antonio's been out," the third-year coach said. "When he's programmed to do a certain thing and all the sudden you want him to run the team, that's not an easy thing to do."
Hubbs found excitement in Barton's looming debut.
"It's definitely going to help us," Hubbs said of Barton. "He's very explosive. He's a true point guard. We all saw it at Memphis, so that's going to help us a lot."
Martin said he expects Barton to be back for the Vols' regular-season opener at Xavier, but would like to get him back for Thursday's final exhibition against Southern Indiana.
In total, 11 Volunteers played in Saturday's win. Quinton Chievous was not one of them.
The sophomore played his way into the rotation when the Vols peaked last season, but didn't make an appearance in the exhibition opener despite dressing out.
"Keep pushing, keep pushing," Martin said when asked if there was a reason Chievous didn't log any minutes Saturday. "He's a good guy, but keep pushing."