Hubbs faces hype, TSU

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Earning a five-star rating from the recruiting services is a tremendous compliment but also a tremendous challenge. If you live up to the hype, you’re celebrated. If not, you’re overrated. There’s no middle ground.

Case in point: Tennessee’s Robert Hubbs. Heading into Saturday night’s 8:30 tipoff against visiting Tennessee State the 6-foot-6 sophomore guard is averaging 15.5 minutes and 3.6 points per game, shooting 36.8 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from 3 and 54.5 percent from the foul line.

Those numbers might be OK from a two-star or a slow-developing three-star. From a consensus five-star and top-20 recruit … well, not so much. And the Vols’ head coach finds that grossly unfair.

“It’s frustrating for me as a coach,” Donnie Tyndall said. “You look around the country, and the guys that rank these guys five-star, four-star, three-star, they’ve never dribbled the ball in their life. They wouldn’t know a star from a moon or a crater, let alone who can play and who can’t. I’m not trying to be offensive, but a lot of these guys are clueless. They don’t know.”

After a brief pause to catch his breath and calm down a bit, Tyndall continued:

“That doesn’t mean Robert doesn’t deserve his high ranking or another guy doesn’t deserve his high ranking. But what that does is put a lot of undue pressure on a kid – from the fan perspective, maybe from the hometown perspective and all of those things. It’s unfair. The only expectations that matter with Robert are his expectations and mine. Everyone else? No offense, but they don’t matter.”

They shouldn’t matter but they do. With five stars next to your name, living up to the hype is a daily challenge. Consider these examples from Tennessee’s recent past:

-Scotty Hopson averaged 9.2 points as a freshman,12.2 as a sophomore and 17.0 as a junior but was widely viewed as an underachiever when he chose the 2011 NBA Draft over his senior year.

-Tobias Harris followed Hopson, living up to the hype and then some. He averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his only season with the Vols, turning pro following his freshman year.

-Jarnell Stokes experienced both the Hopson and Harris ends of the spectrum during his time in Big Orange Country. Expectations were so high for the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Memphian that many fans initially considered him a disappointment, even after he averaged almost a double-double (12.4 points, 9.6 rebounds) as a sophomore. It wasn’t until Stokes posted 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds as a junior in helping Tennessee reach the Sweet 16 that he developed into a fan favorite.

Appearances to the contrary, Hubbs says his five-star rating has not created any undue pressure.

“No,” he said. “No pressure at all.”

He insists the lofty expectations of his hometown fans don’t concern him, either.

“No,” he said. “I’ve been fine.”

Even if he is oblivious to the expectations of others, Hubbs has performed well below his own expectations. How has he handled that?

“Praying to God,” he said. “That’s all I can do right now. Without Him, I wouldn’t be here right now. I give a lot of credit to Him, then go out there and play with confidence.”

Hubbs’ slow start as a collegian is understandable. The Newbern native showed up in Knoxville 19 months ago with a shoulder problem but tried to fight through it. Playing timid, he finally opted for surgery after averaging 5.0 points in the first 12 games. After missing the rest of the season and considerable offseason work last summer, he is just beginning to round into form. He hit 3 of 6 shots from the field and 3 of 4 from the foul line en route to nine points in a 19-minute relief effort Monday in Game 10 against Mercer.

Tyndall called it “Robert’s best outing since I’ve coached him,” adding: “The offensive rebound that he tipped back in the goal showed his athleticism and he got it in a physical play, which was great to see.”

Hubbs has a tendency to shot-put the ball in close, a habit Tyndall has been trying to break.

“A lot of times he shoots a little push/floater shot that is a tough percentage shot,” the coach said. “We have been talking about ‘Just drive it and pull up and shoot the ball. Snap your wrist and if you miss it, you miss it.’ He did that twice (versus Mercer) on baseline drives."

One of those baseline drives ended with a clutch eight-foot jumper that bumped the lead to 53-40 with 4:32 left and basically sealed the Vol victory.

Tyndall also praised Hubbs’ work in the full-court press and the 1-3-1 zone. That’s significant since Hubbs played mostly inside at Dyer County High and is still learning to defend guards.

You wonder: Was the Mercer game a turning point for Robert Hubbs? Perhaps.

“He was good,” Tyndall said, “and we need Robert to do that more every night.”

If he does, that five-star rating will become more of a blessing and less of a curse.

GAME NOTES: Tennessee is shooting 47.7 percent (21 of 44) from 3-point range over the past three games.... The Vols are 5-0 this season when they hold opponents to fewer than 60 points.... Devon Baulkman is 8 for 11 (72.7 percent) from 3-point range over the last three games and is averaging 14.0 points per game during that span.... Tennessee State is 2-10 this season under first-year head coach Dana Ford. The Tigers were 5-25 last season.... Guards Jay Harris (11.1 points per game) and Marcus Roper (11.0) are TSU's leading scorers.... Tennessee leads the all-time series with TSU 4-0. The Vols won 88-67 last season in Knoxville.... Saturday night's tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 with TV coverage provided by the SEC Network.


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