Hopson's home finale?

Seniors Brian Williams, Melvin Goins, Josh Bone, John Fields, Steven Pearl and Mike Hubert will make their final home appearance for Tennessee Sunday vs. Kentucky.

Don't be surprised if junior Scotty Hopson is making his last appearance before the home fans, as well.

In response to a message-board question about a month ago, I put Hopson's chances of jumping to the NBA after this season at 10 percent. Given his radically improved play since then, I'd now say that figure is closer to 75 percent.

Five weeks ago the 6-foot-7 junior guard began attacking the rim more instead of relying so heavily on the 3-point shot. The result: Hopson has been virtually unstoppable the past month. Since a 5-of-13 shooting performance that produced 13 points in a Jan. 22 loss at UConn, the Hopkinsville, Ky., native has been on fire, seemingly scoring at will.

Over the past nine games Hopson has averaged a healthy 21.2 points per contest. He has shot a sizzling 52.3 percent from the field (69 of 132), including 42.9 percent (21 of 49) from 3. To put that last figure in perspective, consider that program leader Allan Houston shot 42.4 percent from beyond the arc and runnerup Chris Lofton 42.2 percent during their Volunteer days.

Those are the kind of numbers that catch NBA scouts' eyes.

Inconsistency has long been the biggest knock on Hopson, yet his past nine outings have been remarkably consistent. Check it out:

- He was 9 of 14 from the field (3 of 6 from 3) and scored 22 points Jan. 26 vs. LSU.

- He was 6 of 12 from the field (2 of 5 from 3) and scored 16 points Jan. 29 at Ole Miss.

- Playing on a sore ankle after missing games at Auburn and vs. Alabama with a sprain, he was 3 of 8 from the field (2 of 3 from 3) and scored 11 points Feb. 8 at Kentucky.

- He was 9 of 14 from the field (3 of 3 from 3) and scored 22 points Feb. 12 at Florida.

- He was 7 of 16 from the field (3 of 8 from 3) and scored 23 points Feb. 16 vs. South Carolina.

- He was 12 of 19 from the field (2 of 7 from 3) and scored a career-high 32 points Feb. 19 vs. Georgia.

- He was 6 of 16 from the field (1 of 5 from 3) and scored 19 points Feb. 22 at Vanderbilt.

- He was 8 of 16 from the field (2 of 5 from 3) and scored 22 points Feb. 26 vs. Mississippi State.

- He was 9 of 17 from the field (3 of 7 from 3) and scored 24 points Thursday night at South Carolina.

One aspect of Hopson's game that has gone largely overlooked is his dramatic improvement at the free-throw line. After shooting a chilly 58.8 percent as a sophomore, he is hitting a respectable 72.1 percent as a junior.

Still, the most impressive aspect of Scotty Hopson is his stepped-up play of late. He's averaging 19.8 points per game since SEC competition began five weeks ago, compared to 17.8 overall. He's shooting 49.5 percent from the field, compared to 46.3 overall. He's hitting 41.5 percent from 3-point range, compared to 38.6 overall.

Scotty has some obvious holes in his game, of course. He still suffers from the occasional mental lapse, especially on defense. He still records far too few assists (37) and far too many turnovers (73) for a perimeter player. Still, he's a 6-foot-7 guy with a smooth 3-point stroke, an explosive first step and dynamic leaping ability. NBA scouts will tell you: That combination doesn't come along every day.

That's why I think Tennessee fans should take a long look at Scotty Hopson Sunday afternoon. It could be the last look they'll get.


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