KNOXVILLE -- Though he's still in college, Trey Thompkins is an NBA player in the eyes and mind of Tennessee's players and coaches.
Those same minds and eyes will aim most of their focus on Georgia's 6-foot-10 junior forward when the Volunteers visit Athens on Tuesday night.
"His face-up game is far beyond anybody in college basketball," UT center Brian Williams said after Sunday's practice.
"He's not a college basketball [player], he's an NBA prospect, and we know that. He's our main focus. Us as bigs have to accept another challenge of an NBA prospect and trying to shut him down win the game."
Thompkins, who's averaging 18 points and seven rebounds this season, nearly declared for the NBA Draft after last season before returning to school. Projected as a potential lottery pick, he's been a difficult matchup for UT in four meetings with the Vols.
"Thompkins is a pro, he could have gone [to the NBA] last year and been a first-round [pick]," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "He came back to move up, and I think he will. He's an inside-outside guy."
Thompkins had 21 points, seven boards and three 3-pointers in the game in Athens last January, when Georgia won 78-63 to snap a 10-game losing streak in the series that stretched back to 2004.
He scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in UT's win in Knoxville later in the year and averaged 12 points and eight rebounds in two meetings as a freshman.
"Since I've been here he's been having great games against us," said Williams, who compared Thompkins to Denver Nuggets forward and perennial NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
"It's been hard trying to cover him. With that facet of his game, being able to face up and take people off the dribble bigger than him. If he's playing somebody smaller than him he got the game to overpower you. He's even better at home. It's going to be tough, but we're ready for that."
UT repeatedly placed championship implications on Saturday's 67-64 home victory against Vanderbilt, and the Vols are taking that perspective with them on the road to Georgia and Connecticut this week.
"Going on the road is an opportunity," Pearl said. "Georgia is not going to lose many games at home. They play very well at home. It's going to be the most hostile environment we've been to so far this year.
"These are the ones, they're great opportunities [because] these are the ones that separate the champions from the contenders because just not many folks are going to beat Georgia at Georgia. We want to see if we can put some things together on both ends of the floor, and it's got to be special."
Added guard Scotty Hopson: "Relishing on a win was definitely in our mindset [Saturday], but I told the team when we huddled up today [that] we can't relax, and we've got to play like our backs are against the wall."
Pearl exuded his appreciation for the loud crowd helping UT's comeback win on Saturday.
"I can't even begin explain to our fans the difference that they made," he said. "They gave our kids the confidence and the courage to compete at a time when we're facing great adversity, the adversity of my not being there [and] the adversity of being down in a particular. I was very proud of this program, our fans, our coaches, our players.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...