Scotty Hopson didn't wilt under the pressure last season but he didn't live up to the hype, either. Then again, who could?
"It was hard," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl noted. "He was the first McDonald's All-American we ever signed. People see the athleticism, the size, the length, the pedigree, the whole thing. There were tremendous expectations put on a freshman."
Hopson, a 6-7 guard who averaged 24.3 points per game as a high school senior in Hopkinsville, Ky., raised expectations even further when he scored 17 points in his collegiate debut against Chattanooga. He would not maintain that pace, however.
Ultimately, the numbers he posted in 2008-09 would be considered very good for most freshmen. He started 30 games of 34 games, averaged 9.2 points and shot 35.7 percent from 3, best among the starters. He had a 21-point outing vs. Mississippi State and a 20-point game vs. Florida.
"He averaged almost 10 points per game," Pearl noted. "He was second on the team in 3-point percentage and he was on the All-Freshman team. He had a really good freshman year."
The problem was, many fans anticipated more than a "really good year" from the heralded Hopson as a freshman. Now that he's a sophomore, the expectation level should be a lot more realistic. That relieves some of the pressure on him.
"I think so," he said recently. "Coming in, the pressure was on, of course, and I felt that pressure at times - being an All-American. Knowing my expectations were high, I wanted to fulfill those expectations. Now the pressure's off my shoulders.
"I want to go out and play basketball this year, be the Scotty Hopson that I am."
Hopson has changed a lot since he enrolled at UT 14 months ago. He's not the wide-eyed youngster he was then. He's more mature - physically, as well as emotionally - thanks to the addition of 18 pounds of muscle.
"I came in at 185, and right now I'm at 203," he said. "I've gained almost 20 pounds."
The added weight has created added strength. A year ago he bench-pressed 185 pounds just two times. Last week he bench-pressed that weight 12 times.
The increase in strength should translate to an increase in scoring for Hopson, who excels on the dribble drive. Too often last winter his wiry frame was bumped off course as he was trying to reach the basket. The added heft will allow him to go stronger to the rim this season.
"This year the thing you want to see from Scotty is more physical play," Pearl said. "Taking the ball to the basket and not getting bounced off the ball. Getting there and getting fouled, getting to the rim more. Defensively, making more plays - on and off the ball."
Hopson concedes that his new physique is a huge advantage, noting: "My physicality, getting stronger and being able to finish at the rim has really helped me out."
In addition to being older and stronger than last year, Hopson is a lot smarter than he was as a freshman. The demands of college basketball in general - and Tennessee's system in particular - won't take him by surprise this season.
"I wish I would've known then what I know now," he said, smiling sheepishly. "My experience level and what I gained last season has really helped me out, as far as knowing the game better and knowing what to expect in game situations."
The fact fans are more realistic in what they expect of him should be a big plus, as well.