The intruder was not escorted from the Bearden High Gym. He wasn't even escorted back to his seat in the stands. That's because the intruder was Wayne Chism, a 6-9 Vol center who was waiting to play in Game 3.
To say that Hopson's debut before the Knoxville fans was an auspicious one might be the understatement of the year. The 6-6 guard was a hit even BEFORE he was a hit. Strolling into the gym at halftime of Game 1, he was besieged by so many autograph-seekers that they nearly covered one end of the court, essentially preventing one team from shooting any second-half warmup shots.
When he returned to the floor 45 minutes later – this time as a participant – Hopson showed why he was one of the most sought-after prospects in America this year. Scoring mostly on gravity-defying dunks and 3-point bombs, he produced 25 points while drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
Even as he led Ray's ESG to a 140-115 blowout of Richardson Construction, however, Hopson's expression never changed. He occasionally held up his fist after draining a 3-pointer but, for the most part, showed no emotion facially. In fact, he seemed almost bored.
"You all ain't seen the other side of me," he said, grinning broadly after the game. "Usually, I get crazy hyped. I guess I just ain't unleashed it yet. This was my first Rocky Top game, so I'm still trying to get the feel of things."
One thing he already got "the feel of" was the fondness Tennessee fans have for him. They roared their approval every time he made a basket ... even the ones that didn't bring Wayne Chism out onto the floor.
"I'm glad they're happy I'm here," Hopson said. "I'm happy to BE here."
"This was the first time I got to play with Brian and Bobby in the same game," Hopson noted, "so it was great being out there and competing with them."
Most of Hopson's 25 points came off assists from Maze, a mercurial point guard who comes to UT after a year at junior college. The two newcomers seemed to have instant chemistry on the floor.
"We both play the same type of basketball," Hopson explained. "We know we want to score – know we want to get up and down the floor – so it's easy for us."
Considering how well Hopson and Maze meshed in their first time together on court, one can only imagine how well they'll collaborate by the middle of the 2008-09 season.
"That's just something to look forward to during the season," Hopson said. "We've just got to keep working and keep getting better."
Asked to assess his individual performance, Hopson paused thoughtfully before responding.
"I think I played well," he said. "I've still got some things to work on. I've got to keep pushing to get better."
He's already better than many fans anticipated. He may even be good enough to live up to the hype that preceded his arrival. The fans attending Monday night's action certainly seemed to appreciate his performance.
"Aw, man, it's a great feeling," he said. "There's nothing better. Realizing the people are behind me and supporting me ... it's a great feeling."