UK loss spurred Hopson

Mindful of the hype that preceded his arrival, Scotty Hopson tried hard to blend into the background in his first 15 games with the Tennessee Vols.

In fact, he may have tried a little too hard.

A native of Hopkinsville, Ky., Scotty Hopson took last Tuesday's 90-72 homefloor setback to Kentucky even harder than his Vol teammates. That was partly because it was his home-state university and partly because he did little to prevent the lopsided loss.

"That loss did hurt," he recalled. "I came here just to play Kentucky, and when we got that loss that really hurt, man. I'm taking that the wrong way. From now on we're getting them back for that loss – anybody in our way."

That defeat may prove to be a turning point for Hopson, who showed a new-found aggressiveness in Tennessee's next outing. He scored a career-high 19 points as the Vols beat South Carolina 82-79 Saturday night.

Being a true freshman, he appeared reluctant to assert himself earlier, choosing to defer to older players.

"At times," he conceded, "but I'm still putting myself out there as a team player. I'm trying to do things to help us win."

One of the things he can do to help the Vols win is aggressively look to score. Blessed with a 6-7 frame, good ballhandling skills and surprising quickness, he is difficult to stop when he attacks the rim. He rarely exploited this ability in Games 1 through 15, however.

"He's not been aggressive enough," head coach Bruce Pearl said following the Carolina game. "He's not played as well as I think he can play but his attitude's been terrific."

Indeed. For a hyped-up former prep superstar, Hopson has a surprisingly team-oriented approach to the game.

"Scotty's attitude has been consistently solid," Pearl said. "This has been a grind, and yet Scotty's attitude has never wavered. His facial expression never really changed. He cares but he has a quiet confidence, and I don't think he gets rattled."

Hopson scored the last of his 19 points with 8:16 to play in the South Carolina game. He then reverted to form and deferred to older Vols, specifically junior forward Tyler Smith, who scored 10 consecutive UT points to preserve the victory.

"That's just the toughness in him to create and make big plays," Hopson said. "That's Tyler Smith."

Smith has proven his ability to make big plays at crunch time, a role Hopson surely will inherit someday.

"That was a veteran player taking over a game," he said. "Sooner or later, it's going to be me taking over them games, so I'm just looking forward to the opportunity."

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