Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson listens to instructions during NCAA college basketball practice on March 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
KNOXVILLE -- Scotty Hopson tried golf. He quickly recognized he was no Tiger Woods.
"It's kind of difficult," Hopson said between smiles. "My arms hang down to my knees, man. I'm not built for that game."
The Tennessee sophomore is perfectly built for basketball's 2 guard position, though. He's a lean but cut 6-foot-7. His arms indeed are long. He has first-step quickness no coach can teach. He can rise well above the rim and finish over most college big men -- including mammoth Kansas center Cole Aldrich, in one instance. He's a capable shooter well beyond the 3-point line.
"Scotty could be one of the best to ever play here," Volunteers senior point guard Bobby Maze. "People say stuff like this all the time, but with him the sky really is the limit for what he can do on the basketball court."
Quite obviously, though, that hasn't happened yet.
As last weekend's Southeastern Conference tournament showed, Hopson's sum doesn't always equal his parts.
Hopson entered the tournament as UT's leading scorer, but his three-day stay in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena wasn't a memorable one -- at least not in a good way. The best thing about it was that his tournament slightly improved from a horrendous start.
He opened with 0-for-8 shooting against LSU and was 2-for-11 in the quarterfinal win over Ole Miss. He shot 4-for-10 and led the Vols with 11 points in their semifinal loss to Kentucky, ending the tournament 6-for-29 from the field and 1-for-14 from behind the arc.
"Scotty played at such a high level going in, but he obviously has issues with that building," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "When you're 1-for-18 after a couple of games, it gets in your head, and it was in his head. He battled back to play better against Kentucky, but his inconsistency is obviously troubling, and it's akin to our own inconsistencies.
"If you look at the numbers, obviously our leading scorer didn't play very well in Nashville."
And Hopson hasn't tried to hide it.
"My shot was off, and I kind of let it get to me mentally," Hopson said. "I was hesitant to shoot, and when I got the ball, I was kind of juggling it sometimes. ... It was bad, man, just bad."
Hopson didn't deny Pearl's comment about his struggles in that particular arena, but he figured there was an even bigger issue.
Indeed, there was one. Hopson asked coaches for video from the weekend to study all his perimeter shots -- "I know how to evaluate my shot and myself," he said -- and he found a mechanical flaw with his feet.
"Sometimes when I don't go straight up and straight down, my shot is either long or short," he said. "That's what I was trying to work on this week -- getting my feet set every time I shot the basketball. And then letting it all be one motion.
"Whenever I shoot all in one motion, I'm a successful shooter."
Perimeter shooting isn't terribly different from golf in that way, Hopson added.
"In golf, your elbows are cocked almost like you're shooting a basketball," he said. "I went to a camp, and a guy taught me that ... and it's the truth.
"Really, it's all about rhythm. You have to be in the flow, and you have to be consistent."
So, problem solved, right?
"I'm back on track, no doubt," the former McDonald's All-American said.
This would be an ideal time for Hopson to shed the inconsistent label that's hung over his first two seasons with the Vols. No. 6 seed UT (25-8) opens NCAA tournament play Thursday against 11th-seeded, trendy upset pick San Diego State (25-8).
"I don't think too highly of the way that whole selection process went down," Hopson said. "And now everybody's got us losing in the first round. But you know what? I don't really care what they think."
Hopson's tone strongly suggested he does care, though. And he doesn't like it.
And he thinks he can help the Vols prove those analysts wrong.
"It's a lot of motivation," Hopson said. "I'm just so anxious to get another opportunity to play better basketball. I want to get out there and prove I can do so much more. I know people have seen me play better, and I've played so much better, but I feel like there's just so much more I can do on this basketball floor.
"And I feel like my contribution to this basketball team is what's going to take us far. I feel like it's my time. I feel it, man. I do."
Those words sounded sweet as a swish to senior wing J.P. Prince.
"Once Scotty figures out how good he is, nobody's going to be able to stop him," Prince said. "Hopefully I'll get to see that while I'm still playing with him."
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