Summer basketball

Fans who attend the Pilot Rocky Top League that begins Monday night at Knoxville's Bearden High gym will notice that summer basketball games are awfully similar to football bowl games:

Some people show up to make a statement; these people usually perform well. Other people show up because they have nowhere else to be; these people usually underachieve. It's all about motivation.

Last year's Rocky Top League is a perfect example. Tennessee forward Tyler Smith knew he was expected to be the league's premier player and devoted himself to that goal. He wound up averaging 30.6 points per game, hitting 56.6 percent from the floor and leading his team to the league title with a 7-0 record. Tabbing him league MVP was a no-brainer.

Fellow Vol Cameron Tatum was highly motivated, as well. After redshirting as a freshman, Tatum felt the need to prove himself to UT fans. He did so by leading the Rocky Top League in scoring at 34.3 points per game.

Two UT rookies – junior college transfer Bobby Maze and Prep All-American Scotty Hopson – also were determined to use the Rocky Top League as a springboard.

Maze shot 58.2 percent from the floor, hit a league-best 44.0 percent from 3 and averaged 29.4 points per game en route to earning recognition as the league's "Outstanding Player."

Hopson shot 52.7 percent from the floor, averaged 28.9 points per game and was voted the league's "Rising Star."

Conversely, Wayne Chism never quite got into the flow of the Rocky Top League. The 6-9, 240-pounder might've been the most physically gifted player in the entire summer league, yet he shot just 43.5 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from beyond the arc. He averaged 19.6 points per game but did not make the impact he could have.

Brian Williams, Chism's backup at UT, actually outplayed him in the summer league last June. Williams shot 69.4 percent from the field and averaged 20.5 points per game en route to earning recognition as the league's "Best Big Man."

Another Vol who benefited was Josh Tabb. Normally a complementary player, he was forced to fill the "go-to guy" role on his summer-league team. Proving equal to the task, he shot 40.6 percent from 3, averaged 23.8 points per game and won the league award for "competitiveness."

Because defense is all but forgotten, summer-league basketball evokes a lot of snide chuckles. Still, every UT player grew from his Rocky Top League experience last summer, even Chism. He learned that summer basketball games are a lot like football bowl games: You get out what you put in.

Odds are, he'll put in a little more this June than he did last June.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories