Heralded Hopson debuts tonight

Whether it's a four-year courtship or a one-year fling, Tennessee basketball fans and Scotty Hopson will begin a promising relationship this evening in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Few players in program history have arrived amid the fanfare that surrounds Hopson, who makes his Big Orange debut tonight at 7:30 when the 2008-09 Vols host Indianapolis in their exhibition opener. Heck, a lot of folks already project him as a "one-and-done" who will play one year of college ball, then jump to the National Basketball Association.

As excited as the Big Orange Nation is about Hopson, however, Hopson may be even more excited about his introduction to the Big Orange Nation.

Scanning spacious Thompson-Boling Arena, he recently noted: "I heard it seats more than The Staples Center. When I heard that I was like, 'Wow.' I think when it gets rocking it's going to be electrifying in here. I'm just ready to see what it's going to be like. I'm so excited for the season to start; I'm just ready to play."

Tonight is the first of 17 appearances Hopson will make in TBA this season, with four of these occurring in the next 16 days. The Vols host Carson-Newman Friday night in their final exhibition tuneup, then host Chattanooga (Nov. 15) and UT-Martin (Nov. 18) in their first two regular-season outings.

"That's just that much more excitement, knowing it's going to be a night-in-and-night-out competition," Hopson said. "I think that's what is going to get us better for when March Madness comes around."

Hopson averaged 24.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, three blocks and three assists per game last winter for University Heights High School of Hopkinsville, Ky. Tabbed All-America by McDonald's and Parade Magazine, he was one of the most heavily recruited players in America. With so many college options available to him, choosing the right one was difficult.

"The whole recruiting process was very hard," he recalled. "Just narrowing it down from 50 to 20 to 10 – and to finally get to five – and then to finally choose Tennessee was one of the hardest processes I've been through. I think in the end it was definitely the best decision I could've made. There's so much success here and I have a good relationship with Coach Pearl."

Bruce Pearl fought the good fight last year for Collierville shooting guard Elliot Williams but finished second to Duke. When he learned that Hopson had reneged on his commitment to Mississippi State, the Vol coach shifted into overdrive.

"The minute he found out I'd decommitted to Mississippi State he called and asked if he could have a chance to recruit me again," Hopston recalled. "I said, 'Yes sir.' He gave 110 percent to develop a good relationship with me, and that relationship really pushed me into wanting to come to Tennessee."

Ultimately, the Vols won out over Texas, Kentucky, Louisville and Mississippi State for Hopson's services. Naturally, Pearl savors that victory.

"We're very fortunate to have him," the Vol coach said. "He's a great kid. He is a very hard worker. He's very motivated, very, very driven. He's matured a great deal over the last several years. Offensively, he belongs at this level right now. He can shoot it, he can drive it, he can score it and he's got a high basketball IQ.

"Defensively, he's got to constantly remind (himself) that that's 50 percent of the game. It's just not something he's ever focused on, and it's so funny to watch him try to defend knowing that he's never really been taught or had to, because if a guy drove by him he just came from behind and swatted it."

Defense won't be the only difference Hopson will note at the college level. The players are considerably bigger and more physical than what he faced in high school.

As Pearl noted: "I always like to say to my guys, 'Who is the best team in your league?' Scotty Hopson is from Hopkinsville, so maybe he would say Madisonville.'

"I'd say, 'Scotty, Madisonville's not on the schedule.'"

True. But Indianapolis is. It's only an exhibition game but it's a chance to see Scotty Hopson's Big Orange debut. That might be worth the price of admission all by itself.


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