Special game for Hopson

Thompson-Boling Arena will host a Wednesday night basketball game featuring the team Scotty Hopson originally committed to (Mississippi State) and the team he ultimately signed with (Tennessee).

Think this one could get emotional?

The Bulldogs will be looking to shut down Hopson, who spurned them after initially pledging to join them. Scotty Hopson, of course, will be looking to show the Bulldogs he made the right choice by switching to the Vols.

Asked this week if he's thought about facing the school he originally committed to, Hopson conceded that "It's crossed my mind."

Still, he insists that beating the Bulldogs is nothing personal. It's just another step in the quest for an NCAA Tournament berth.

"I really want to win this game because Coach (Bruce Pearl) says this game is probably going to make or break our chance at the NCAA Tournament," Hopson said. "I really want to win this game. Seeing that we are at home, we really need a home-game win just to seal it (NCAA bid) up."

Asked earlier this week about Hopson's defection from MSU to UT, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury deftly avoided the topic, merely noting that the Vol freshman is "a terrific player, a terrific talent."

Tennessee aide Jason Shay, questioned on this week's SEC coaches teleconference about UT's successful turning of Hopson, also danced around the issue.

"We got in on him late spring last year," Shay said. "I think he liked the style of play that we try to employ, and the opportunity to come in and play right away was intriguing with what we lost in the backcourt from a year ago. I think he looked at it as an opportunity to come in and play right away."

After an erratic start, Hopson has made steady improvement in his rookie year of college ball. He averaged 10.3 points per game over the past seven outings, hitting 46.0 percent from the floor. His two best efforts during that stretch came against the two best teams – 20 points vs. Florida, 14 last weekend at Kentucky.

"I want to have that take-over mentality to play very hard, very aggressive," he said. "I think that's when I'm playing the best – when I'm out there showing my talent, showing my game, showing all aspects of what I can do."

Like most good shooters, Hopson devotes a lot of extra time to fine-tuning his stroke.

"I try to (work on it) every day as much as I can – after practice, before practice," he said. "Just getting more time working on my game is making me a better player and making us a better team."

Hopson is about the closest thing the Vols have had to a consistent perimeter threat this season. Even with him going 6 of 14, the Big Orange shot a putrid 31.7 percent in last weekend's 77-58 loss at Kentucky.

"We've got shooters," Hopson said. "Guys have been in a few slumps but guys can shoot. We pretty much know that but this season we haven't really shown that.

"I think it's a little mental. Sometimes when guys aren't shooting well, they're a little hesitant to shoot the ball, which messes up their confidence and they don't make as many shots. When guys are confident, of course they're going to shoot the ball well."

Like most prep superstars, Hopson had virtually no background in defense when he arrived at college. He has made significant strides in that area in recent weeks, however.

"At the beginning of the season you'd see everybody driving around him," teammate Wayne Chism said. "Now there's nobody really scoring on Scotty. He's really stepped up his game, and we're all happy for him."

Vol coaches have noticed.

"Defensively, he's come a long ways," Shay said. "He's starting to understand where he needs to be and how he needs to stop the opponent, whether it's one-on-one or as a team collectively. We're pleased with his progress, and the future's bright for him."

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