Hopson's role changing

Basically, it took Tennessee's worst to bring out Scotty Hopson's best.

At least, that's the theory of Volunteer head coach Bruce Pearl. He is convinced that the heralded 6-foot-7 freshman's recent successes can be traced to Tennessee's earlier failures.

With Hopson keeping a low profile and rarely looking to score, Tennessee lost five of its first eight games of 2009, including home-floor setbacks to Gonzaga (89-79), Kentucky (90-72), Memphis (54-52) and LSU (79-73).

After winning 37 consecutive home games in 2007 and 2008, losing four home games in one month represented an unmitigated disaster for the Vols and a wakeup call for Scotty Hopson.

He has averaged 11.6 points per game during the eight outings since then, establishing a career high with 20 points against Florida on Jan. 31, then raising the bar with 21 Wednesday night against Mississippi State.

Inquiring minds want to know: What got into the young man?

"It's real simple," Pearl said this week. "When a talented but unselfish player comes into your program, they want to walk gently and (tell) the guys that return, 'Hey, it's your team, and I'm here to help.'

"That's how we kind of started off. What he realized – and we all realized – was that without his SIGNIFICANT help, we were not going to be very effective. I think it took losing and the team not being able to perform at the highest level for him to be able to go, 'OK, I'm going to be more aggressive.'

"I think he had to experience some failure by the team in order for him to go, 'OK, this team needs me.'"

Chris Lofton went through the same process during his UT career, evolving from tentative shooter on mediocre teams to All-America gunner for championship teams.

"I think every unselfish player goes through that at some point during their career," Pearl said, adding that Hopson has "stepped up and responded. I don't think it's just that he's getting more comfortable at this level. I think it took the team's struggles to bring it out in him."

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