Nov. 16, 2009
BY JOSH PATE
It's the same uniform as last year for Scotty Hopson. Same number. Same name on the back of the shirt. Same headband look with the brand logo square in the front.
But he's not the same player.
Hopson averaged 9.2 points per game last season while averaging just more than 23 minutes of action for the Vols. He led the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 35.7 and made more than anybody on the team (46). Plain and simple, Hopson was the perimeter threat to the lane drives of Tyler Smith and Bobby Maze.
Tennessee's two blowout preseason games against North Alabama and Lincoln Memorial told a different story. Against North Alabama, he was 8-of-10 from the floor with four 3-pointers in a 20-point outing. Against LMU, he scored 20 again, going 7-of-9 from the floor.
It even carried over into the Vols' season-opener against Austin Peay, where Hopson had a team-high 16 points and shot 6-of-8 from the field.
Part of the difference had been Hopson's aggressiveness and drive to the basket.
"Last year, with Scotty, sometimes we'd drive it and just kick it to him and let him be a catch-and-shoot it type of shooter," Maze said. "This year, you can see him really attacking. We're pushing the ball up and he's able to swipe-through dribble and get nice dunks. Early on in the season, we did that last year, but we just didn't stick to it. This year, we've got to stick to that."
Hopson had no trouble.
Counting UT's two exhibition games, he's missed just six shots.
Credit that to getting off higher percentage shots through layups and dunks off the break. It's a product of Pearl's renewed dedication to getting up and down the floor quickly and allowing his team to control the pace of the game. To use the high gear to his advantage, Hopson beefed up about 15 pounds in the offseason.
The first exhibition didn't convey the message. Hopson failed to get to the free throw line as 12 of his 20 points were from long range. That didn't sit well with Pearl, who has challenged his sophomore star to call for the ball more, to drive to the basket, and to get to the foul line.
In game 2, Hopson was 4-of-6 from the stripe.
"It was a big help and key to my game, to really work hard and put on weight and get stronger in the weight room," Hopson said. "It's helped me out in taking contact and finishing at the rim. Getting to the free throw line has been a big help to my game. It's really helped me out in scoring and getting opportunities for us to get points on the board. But also just being stronger and finishing more is just helping my game out."
Hopson also changed his shot over the offseason, reducing the arc of the ball. How to approach the mechanical changes came with some advice from two of Tennessee's all-time greats.
"I knew from watching film and studying my last shot, I knew once it left my hand where I should place the basketball and how much arc I should have and how much rotation I should have on the ball," Hopson said. "I also talked to Alan Houston and Dale Ellis. They came down and helped me out, gave me some pointers on my shot just in the last couple of weeks, the last month or so. That really helped me out."
The early returns look good. It doesn't necessarily equate to explosive outputs on the road in Tuscaloosa or at Rupp Arena in February, but the work Hopson has put in has proven he's dedicated to reaching the expectations fans had of the McDonald's All-America.
He worked with trainers to manage the adjustment. He worked on his own throughout the offseason. And he's still fine tuning.
"It was kind of difficult, but working with the trainers and putting the work in myself over the offseason - putting time and time in - in the end has really helped me out," Hopson said. "It gave me confidence for my shot going into the season. Now I can go out and shoot the ball and be smooth in my shot and be confident that it's going in. Changing my shot in the offseason really helped me out. So now, going into the season, I'm prepared to knock them down for my teammates."
That type of confidence may have been inside Hopson last season, but it took becoming a sophomore before he figured it out.
"I demand the basketball at times because I know I can make plays for myself and my teammates," Hopson said. "I know that's going to get them in a rhythm and get me in a rhythm. The guys looked at me last year to do that, but now I'm not a freshman anymore and I know what they expect. The guys know I should play that role of being a playmaker and follow their lead - just do what I need to do to help us win."