Roller-coaster rookie

He was rated the No. 1 NBA prospect among SEC newcomers by Lindy's in preseason, and the Tennessee freshman lived up to the hype by scoring 17 points in his debut vs. Chattanooga in Game 1.

He met the lofty expectations again Saturday night in Game 20 vs. Florida, producing 20 points.

In between, however, Scotty Hopson had more ups and downs than a hotel elevator. Consider some of the more dramatic ones:

- He was awesome in Game 6 vs. Gonzaga, contributing 16 points and 3 assists in 25 minutes.

- He was awful in Game 9 vs. Marquette, hitting 1 of 7 shots and finishing with more turnovers (4) than points (2).

- He was awful in Game 15 vs. Kentucky, sinking just 1 of 6 shots in 24 lackluster minutes.

- He was awesome in Game 16 vs. South Carolina, hitting 7 of 12 shots en route to 19 points.

- He was awful in Game 18 (2 of 7 vs. Vanderbilt) and Game 19 (0 of 6 vs. Memphis).

As the first McDonald's All-American signed during the Bruce Pearl era, Hopson was supposed to take The Hill and the SEC by storm. He hasn't. Like most college freshmen, he has been more erratic than electric ... more confounding than astounding.

Most rookies endure this roller-coaster ride but only a few possess the poise to see growing pains as a part of the maturation process. Scotty Hopson appears to be such a player, with a little help from Pearl.

"Coach just tells me to play confident – to know every time I shoot the ball that it's going in," Hopson said on the post-game show following Saturday night's game. "That's what I did."

While going a combined 2 for 13 from the floor against Vandy and Memphis, Hopson found himself becoming tentative – passing up open looks, instead of unloading. His confidence, like his marksmanship, was gone.

"I think that's what I've been doing – thinking about it when I shoot the ball," he said. "Just let it fly, and it's going to go in every time."

Blessed with a 6-foot-7 frame and surprising quickness, Hopson is difficult to stop on drives to the basket. He hadn't utilized this knack much in college, but he showcased it Saturday night against Florida.

"It's just another aspect I'm bringing to my game," he said. "As you can see, it's working for me."

Florida played zone defense all night, daring the Vols to fire from the outside. Hopson took the dare, hitting 4 of 6 shots from beyond the arc. Still, Tennessee is likely to see more zones in the weeks ahead.

"I hope we see more zone," Hopson said. "That's going to open up more things for me."

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