Scotty Hopson came to Tennessee as one of the most highly decorated recruits to ever sign with the Volunteers.
The expectations for Hopson were lofty. Perhaps too lofty.
"I think some much of it is about expectations because he's a McDonald's All-American, and everybody thinks he going to be a great player, but if you look at Scotty's numbers as a freshman, he was, you know, one of the better freshman to (ever) play at Tennessee," coach Bruce Pearl said. "He started as a freshman, that's pretty good."
Hopson started 30 of the team's 34 games during the 2008-09 season and averaged 9.2 points per game. Many UT fans were hoping the 6-foot-7 guard would be a dominate scorer for the Vols, much like fellow Kentucky native Chris Lofton.
Still, Hopson was selected to the SEC All-Freshman team and enters this season as a pre-season First Team All-SEC selection after averaging 10.2 points per game last season as a sophomore.
"He came in last year and obviously improved last year from his freshman year, but I think now, the thing is we want Scotty to try and become a more dominate basketball player in all areas of the game," Pearl said. "He's gotten stronger, he's gained a lot of experience and some maturity. I think he's progressed really well."
Hopson debated the idea of entering the NBA Draft earlier this year — he would have likely been a second round pick — but decided to return to school for his junior year.
Hopson progressed over the summer playing against the best competition across the country and around the world.
He attended skills academies of NBA All-Stars LeBron James and Paul Pierce, but his biggest accomplishment was being one of 20 college players selected to the USA Basketball Men's select team.
"The summer helped me a lot," Hopson said. "I just felt like I gained so much knowledge and got so much better on my skills, and then my mindset changed throughout the game.
"My approach to the game has changed, I play more to win now than just going to score. I think it helped me out a lot this summer."
Hopson went back to the basics this summer, hoping to improve areas of his game that will ultimately make him, and the team, better.
"I stuck to the key aspects of my game as far as dribbling and shooting, the things I do the most — slashing, and not only just when I slash, but finishing that bucket," Hopson said. "I think I need to do a lot more of that when I get to the rim, finish strong and make the bucket and definitely shooting better on the free throw line. I think that will increase my point production and increase my impact on this team."
Pearl is hoping Hopson can do more than just help the team on offense. UT's coach wants the guard to use his size as an advantage more on the defensive end of the court, as well.
"I think Scotty can make plays, and Scotty can score," Pearl said. "And that's absolutely not something that's disputable. It would be the other areas of the game where I think he needs to place his focus and become dominant — as a great rebounding guard, as a great defensive guard. He can contain his man very, very well, has since he got here.
"But can he make plays off the ball? Can he use his length and block shots and get more deflections and steals? And stuff a stat sheet with more than just scoring and therefore make his teammates better."
Pearl admitted Hopson's role needs to be that of a leader.
"I think ultimately for us to be a great team, the cream needs to rise to the top," Pearl said. "Guys like Scotty Hopson absolutely need to do more. He'd be an example of just one of several guys, I think, that would need to do that in order for us to be a great team."
Hopson likes the added pressure from coaches to become a better basketball player. He doesn't think it is anything new to him; he has been the "go-to" guy before.
"I've always been looked at to be an impact player," Hopson said. "I embrace the challenge to be a leader on this basketball team, and I'm ready for the challenge. It just makes me better as a person and a player, and I'm ready to go out and complete my goal."
Hopson hit critical late-game shots to help UT beat Florida and Kentucky last season and will look to do the same in the upcoming year.
"I want to be that guy — a couple of seconds down, I want to be that guy who takes that shot," Hopson said. "As far as (I'm) concerned, I want to be the guy that takes that last shot."
Following an exhibition game loss to Indianapolis, the Vols have a long ways to go if they want to match, or surpass, the Elite Eight appearance from a year ago, but Hopson said that is still the team's ultimate goal.
"As a team, definitely just win a national championship," Hopson said of the season's goals. "That's just how I see it. It's how I've always seen it since I've been here as a freshman, I've always seen us as a national championship team.
"But it's going to take hard work, dedication, defense and rebounding and us just gelling together and becoming a team."