Detrick Mostella was stealing money.
No, the Decatur, Alabama, native wasn't literally reaching out and snatching cash away from people. To hear Mostella himself tell it, he was simply not working hard enough to give coach Rick Barnes validation that he deserved to be on scholarship at Tennessee as the Vols broke even in their first 16 games.
"Back when I was in a hole, coach [Barnes] was talking in the locker room, and he was like, 'There's a lot of people on our team stealing money', so I started thinking, `Am I stealing money?' Because he was saying we are on scholarship, so we should do things much harder," Mostella said. "So I was like, `Am I stealing money?' I started questioning myself, questioning myself... I asked him one day and he was like, 'You've been stealing money a little bit.'"
Mostella paid all of it back and then some Saturday, notching 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting to help Tennessee snag its first road win of the season against Misssissippi State. The sophomore stepped up in place of Armani Moore, who missed the game with an ankle injury, in a spot where the Vols needed someone to fill Moore's void.
His sharp shooting wasn't the only thing that propelled Tennessee to its first victory away from Thompson-Boling Arena. Mostella was able to affect the game off the ball by being proficient on the glass and playing solid defense in the 80-75 win.
"That's one of the biggest improvements that Detrick Mostella has done," Barnes said. "We know that he can shoot the ball. He's like any shooter. He can have games where he can get going, and other games he might not make as many. What we've tried to tell these guys from day one is, 'How do you affect the game when you don't have the ball in your hand? How can you affect it?' Defensively is one way."
Shedding a sense of entitlement Mostella admitted plagued him last season has helped him both on the court and in the locker room, where he claims resepct from his teammates now through his intense work in the gym with seasoned workhorses like Kevin Punter.
"I just came in with a smile, doing everything right. Just loving my teammates, appreciating everything they've done for me, and the things I've done for them. Just being appreciative," Mostella said.
"Last year, I wasn't the person to be liked because I felt like I should've played last year at times, but I really shouldn't have played because I wasn't doing anything productive. I wasn't scoring. My numbers were down. I wasn't playing defense, so I shouldn't have played."
Mostella went from averaging 3.4 points per game last year in 11.7 minutes to scoring double digits in six of his last seven games this year. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder will be needed Wednesday, when Tennessee takes on rival Vanderbilt and its sixth-best field goal percentage defense in the NCAA per Ken Pomeroy.
With Moore still "day-to-day" according to Barners, the time is now for Mostella to cash in.
"I felt like I was one of the guards coming in from the summer that was making a lot of shots, doing everything right," Mostella said. "I feel like I couldn't let him down on what I'm doing. I just did more conditioning. I just got myself in better shape, and just pushed myself much harder than he was doing in practice. I felt like that just took it to another level."