Scotty Hopson couldn’t help but feel the pressure a season ago after arriving at Tennessee as coach Bruce Pearl’s first McDonald’s All-American, and at times, it showed.
After an offseason in the program, though, Hopson has taken his game to new heights, averaging over 20 points per game through the first two games of the young season.
Hopson was named to the SEC All-Freshman honors last year, but the Hopkinsville, Ky., native is shooting at a much higher clip this year after changing the trajectory of his shot in preparation. As a result, Hopson is the Vols’ leading scorer this season, tallying 41 points. Thirty of those 41 points have come from downtown, where Hopson is shooting at a 10-for-13 clip. Hopson said hard work, in particular conditioning, is the cause for his improved play.
“In the last five minutes of the game and teams are tired and we play with our 10 guys and we got our energy, that’s when we got to do our damage,” Hopson said.
Despite his offensive improvements, his greatest improvement has come on the defensive side of the ball. Under UT’s zone defense, the sophomore has recorded two steals and a blocked shot and has played a major role in the Vols holding their first two opponents to a 51.5 point scoring average.
Hopson helped to lead the Vols’ defense in a 124-49 victory over UNC Asheville, holding the Bulldogs to 10 points in the first 17:21 of Tuesday night’s victory and forcing the Bulldogs into 29 turnovers.
“I bring different dimensions to the game,” Hopson said. “I’m a shooter, I’m a slasher and I can go straight to the rim, so that’s three big things as far as offensively. Defensively, given my effort in discouraging guys on the opposing team when I do that, it makes them make mistakes and makes turnovers for the team.”
Even with the fast start, the UT guard still works hard at practice to keep improving his shot percentage, especially at the free-throw line, where the UT guard shot 62 percent from the charity stripe. So far this season, the Vols’ leading scorer is off to a good start, shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line. Hopson said the improvement came from shooting countless free throws this summer.
“I don’t think I shot a good free-throw percentage last season,” Hopson said. “I have worked on that over the summer. All aspects of shooting free throws, threes, pull-ups, all aspects of shooting. I really worked on that to increase my percentage.”
It hasn’t been just Hopson’s game on the court that’s been hard to ignore, but the natural maturation that comes with experience. Pearl said he can see a difference in Hopson.
“I think Scotty’s really coming along offensively,” Pearl said. “I think he’s starting to make more plays defensively, really trying to get better, and he’s brought a maturity; he’s grown. He’s a sophomore, not a freshman.”
Hopson added, despite the hot start, the Vols still have plenty of work to do to reach their goals for the season.
“When March comes, I hope to see our team go as far as we can; hopefully we can win a national championship,” Hopson said. “But at this point, we still have a lot of work to be done, so much more to be learned, so much more to be played.”
The Vols are scheduled to travel to the Virgin Islands on Friday where they will open the Paradise Jam Classic against East Carolina.