Hubbs 'can't wait'

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Last July Robert Hubbs was eager to suit up for Tennessee’s basketball team and prove his five-star ranking was deserved. Twelve months later the goal hasn’t changed.

Hampered by a shoulder problem, Hubbs averaged just 5.0 points in 12 games as a Vol freshman in 2013-14 before undergoing season-ending surgery last winter. Following intensive but careful rehabilitation he believes he and his shoulder are ready to show Big Orange fans why he was rated Scout’s No. 2 shooting guard and No. 20 overall prospect as a senior at Dyer County High in Newbern 12 months ago.

“I’m very anxious,” he said. “I think about it every day. I can’t wait till the season starts. I’m ready to get out there and prove I can lead this team as far as we can go.”

The shoulder that sidetracked his 2013-14 season is now fine, he says.

“It’s a very different feeling. It’s way stronger now,” he said. “I’m able to do a lot more.”

Withheld from full-contact activity through June – including the Rocky Top summer league – Hubbs recently was cleared and began competing in all phases of play. He says there is no problem with the left shoulder that caused him considerable discomfort last winter.

“Last year it impacted me a lot,” he said. “I just want to be out there with my guys as long as possible, till they tell me I can’t go no more.”

That’s basically what happened last season: He played through the pain until team doctors suggested that continuing to punish himself would be futile.

“I fought through it like a man,” Hubbs said, smiling proudly. “I feel like I played through it as long as possible.”

Ultimately, he played through it one game too long. Had he shut it down after 11 games, instead of 12, Hubbs would have played in less than 30 percent of Tennessee’s games and qualified to count 2013-14 as a medical redshirt year. The Vols plan to file an appeal anyway, given that Hubbs had minimal impact, playing just 60 minutes – mostly at mop-up time – the entire season.

“He was kind of timid last year – maybe because he was a freshman, maybe because he was hurting … I don’t really know,” senior teammate Josh Richardson said.

There is nothing timid about Hubbs’ game these days. In pickup games against his Vol teammates his aggressiveness attacking the rim is back. So is his self-esteem.

“He’s definitely doing a good job of being confident,” Richardson said with a smile.

No wonder. After nearly losing him to transfer earlier this spring, new head coach Donnie Tyndall convinced Hubbs to stay by assuring him he can be a difference-maker for the 2014-15 Vols.

“He talked about that a lot – just using my athleticism to get up and down, play basketball,” Hubbs said.

In addition to a new coaching staff, Tennessee has added seven new players since the 2013-14 season ended with a loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16. Even with so many unknowns factoring into the equation Hubbs is excited about the season ahead.

“It definitely feels like a new team with a new coach,” he said. “We’re basically starting over. I’m looking forward to us.”

Richardson is the top returning scorer, coming off a 2013-14 season that saw him average 10.7 points per game. He is “The Guy” in terms of offense, defense and leadership.

“He definitely has to step up and be the leader this year,” Hubbs said. “I’m going to be right behind him. I know my time is coming, and I’m going to be right behind him.”

Another returning wing is junior Armani Moore, an acrobatic defensive specialist who should fit nicely in Tyndall’s full-court press. In addition to Richardson, Moore and a healthy Hubbs, the wing corps includes spring signees Detrick Mostella, Devon Baulkman and Kevin Punter, a first-team JUCO All-American.

Still, Tennessee is without eight of the 13 players who produced a 24-13 record and reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last season. As a result, most observers view 2014-15 as a rebuilding year. Not Hubbs. He thinks the Sweet 16 experience primed the returnees’ appetites for another nice NCAA Tournament run.

“Definitely,” he said. “Especially for me. I’m out here working my tail off to get back to that point.”

Even with a surgically repaired shoulder and seven unproven teammates, Hubbs says he is optimistic about the season ahead.

“Very,” he said. “I’m ready to get out there and show all the Tennessee fans what I can do.”

If that comment sounds familiar, it should. Hubbs said the same thing last summer. This time, if his shoulder is sound, he’ll get the chance to fulfill the prophecy.

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