Hopson's homecoming

Allan Houston did it. Chris Lofton did it. Now Scotty Hopson is looking to follow in their famous footsteps.

Houston, a native of Louisville, Ky., played some of the best games of his Tennessee career against the home-state Kentucky Wildcats. Lofton, a native of Maysville, Ky., gave the Big Blue the blues, as well. Vol fans can only hope Hopson, a native of Hopkinsville, follows suit when the 12th-ranked Big Orange (18-5 overall, 6-3 SEC) faces the third-ranked Wildcats (23-1, 8-1) tonight at 9 in Rupp Arena.

Now for a brief history lesson:

Houston scored 36 points as a junior in leading the 1992 Vols to a 107-85 blowout of an eighth-ranked Kentucky team in Knoxville. As a senior in '93 he recorded 31 in a competitive loss at Lexington, then produced 27 in the rematch at Knoxville, guiding the Vols to a stunning 78-77 upset of the second-ranked Wildcats.

Lofton scored 31 points as a sophomore in sparking the 2006 Vols to a 75-67 triumph at Lexington. He pumped in 23 as a junior in 2007, propelling Tennessee to an 89-85 upset of the No. 20 Wildcats. He scored 22 points in his final appearance at Rupp Arena as a senior in 2008. Lofton's career numbers against UK show him hitting 47.1 percent (49 of 104) from the field and 46.4 percent (32 of 69) from behind the arc. He scored in double-figures each of the eight times he faced the Cats and averaged 18.9 points against them for his career.

Whether Hopson becomes the superstar fellow Kentuckians Houston and Lofton were remains to be seen. There are some encouraging signs, though. He scored 14 points at Rupp Arena as a freshman last season and hit a game-winning jumper in the final seconds to nip Florida two weeks ago. He appears much more mature and poised than a year ago.

"He's a better player, all-around," head coach Bruce Pearl said earlier this week. "He's stronger, he's more physical. He's a better defender, he's more aggressive getting to the rim and he's playing with more confidence.

"I think Scotty is still making great progress. He has got terrific gifts and tools and athleticism, and he has worked really hard. I'd just like to see him work hard to get open more and get himself better looks."

Assertiveness always has been Hopson's greatest shortcoming. He is so unselfish that he often turns down shots he should be taking. That was OK when he was a freshman in 2008-09 but the Vols need him to be much more of a scoring threat as a sophomore in 2009-10. Maybe that's why he isn't getting a whole lot of recognition this season.

"There is a lot of talk about who are the most improved sophomores in the league, and Scotty doesn't ever get brought up in the conversation," Pearl said. "He's our leading scorer, yet he never gets talked about, as far as the progress that he's made.

"I think folks have missed the boat on that."

Perhaps. If Hopson can make like Houston or Lofton tonight against his home-state university, however, some of the skeptics may board the boat rather quickly.

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