Life goes on

The departures of Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson for the NBA Draft represents the first time in program history that two Tennessee underclassmen bolted in the same year. This has elicited three distinct reactions:

The media members are pessimistic. The fans are hopeful. The returning players are excited.

None of this surprises first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin. He understands that, even without Harris and Hopson, the Vol Nation will expect to see a quality product on the floor next winter.

"Fans will be fans," Martin said during a Big Orange Caravan stop Thursday in Greeneville. "You want fans to be fans and be supportive."

Although the early departure of the top two scorers from 2010-11 has many media types forecasting gloom and doom, Tennessee's players appear to be as optimistic as ever.

"What happens with the returning players is, in their minds, they're just as good as Scotty and Tobias," Martin said. "That's what happens with players. They don't sit back and say, 'Oh, man, we lost these players. We can't win.'

"With players, everybody thinks they're a great player. That's where they have an edge - that level of confidence. You want those guys going in with the expectation of being successful."

Whereas Hopson left Knoxville weeks ago to begin preparing for a pro career, Harris stayed on campus and worked out with his Vol teammates. That suggested he might be returning for the 2011-12 season.

"Those are good guys with big hearts," Martin said. "It was tough for those guys making those decisions. It was really tough for Tobias because he built such great relationships, and I was really working him while he was on campus. It was just one of those deals where 12 to 15 (draft prospects) came back to college, so his stock continued to rise. I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the lottery (top 14 picks) this year."

Although he really wanted Harris to stay, Martin tried to help the player make an informed decision regarding his pro chances.

"We talked to NBA teams and general managers to get the best information possible," Martin noted, "because some of the agents that want to represent you sometimes give biased information. In Tobias' case, if he was anywhere in the top 15, he was gone."

The loss of Harris and Hopson wouldn't be so imposing if the Vols hadn't also lost six seniors from the 2010-11 squad - five of whom averaged double-digit minutes.

"It's not just those two guys. You lost all of those seniors, as well," Martin said. "You're talking about losing seven key guys, and that's a lot to lose from one team."

Still, Hopson (17.0 points per game) and Harris (15.3) are the key losses. They combined for 44.8 percent of last season's scoring, and that's a big chunk to replace.

Martin acknowledged as much, noting: "Two and a half weeks ago I set those seven returning guys down and said, 'Guys, there's the reality that Scotty and Tobias will not be back. That's outside of losing those seniors. Now how will we be able to score the ball with those guys leaving? These are the things you have to think about the rest of this spring and the summer months to get ready for basketball.'

"I had to make the players understand that we have to find ways to be productive without those guys."

Martin's first year on The Hill will be far more challenging because of the two early departures but he tries not to think of them in those terms.

"We just kind of look at those guys as seniors graduating," the coach said. "Going forward from there, it gives the guys that are returning an opportunity to be successful and get some minutes."

Although his job just got a lot tougher, Martin is OK with Harris jumping to the pros after one college season.

"I'm fine with it," the coach said. "If they had it where a kid can leave after high school, I'd be fine with that, as well. I think you have to give guys an opportunity. If that's what they want to do, I think that's fine.

"But if a kid has an opportunity to leave after high school he'd almost have to be guaranteed he's an NBA player. What happens a lot of times is those guys leave after high school, they wind up trying to be NBA players and fall short, then they can't go back to college. That's unfortunate. If you're leaving after high school, it should almost be guaranteed that he's an NBA player so he can make that transition easily."

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