KNOXVILLE — It didn't take long for Darius Thompson to find a basketball court after the freshman guard moved into his room on the University of Tennessee campus.
He was far from alone, too.
"That first night when we got here, the team came in and helped us move in and all that, and after my parents left, we played our first open gym [with] everybody on the team that night," Thompson recalled Wednesday night after his team lost to open the second night of the annual Rocky Top summer basketball league. "It was the first thing we did actually. After the game, we went and watched one of the [NBA] playoff games as a team."
Since then, the Murfreesboro Blackman High School product hardly has gone anywhere without fellow Volunteers freshmen Robert Hubbs, the five-star shooting guard, and swingman A.J. Davis. The rookie trio share a two-room suite with Tennessee's fourth newcomer Rawane "Pops" Ndiaye, the junior-college transfer big man. The freshmen have been grouped for workouts and have similar class schedules.
Though he knew Ndiaye from taking his official visit to Tennessee the same weekend, Thompson said he did not know Hubbs or Davis before meeting them in Knoxville, though he played Hubbs' Dyer County team at a team camp prior to his junior season.
"We do everything together, really," he said.
College has been a shift in scenery for the wiry 6-foot-4, 180-pound point guard who averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, led Blackman to a third consecutive Class AAA state tournament appearance and was a finalist for the Mr. Basketball award as a senior.
"It's a huge adjustment," he said. "It's the summer time for me, and I'm used to taking naps and getting a lot of sleep in, but now we're waking up at 5:30 every morning to get to a 6 o'clock workouts. It's a huge difference."
Thompson said he's become accustomed to his new lifestyle after a few weeks in Knoxville. Both he and the 6-foot-8 Davis, and Hubbs to a lesser degree, need a few months in the weight room to add strength to their youthful frames.
Before the Vols landed a commitment from Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, it appeared that Thompson would have to contribute immediately in the wake of Trae Golden's departure. Barton is not yet on campus, though he's expected to enroll later this summer once he completes the necessary academic work at Memphis.
A one-time Vanderbilt commitment, Thompson attracted interest from Alabama, Auburn, Butler and Virginia before picking the Vols. His father, Lonnie, is the head coach at Cumberland University, a NAIA program in Lebanon, Tenn. He displays a calm demeanor on the floor and speaks quietly off it.
"He likes to distribute the ball," said Josh Richardson, the rising junior wing who's Thompson's summer league teammate. "He likes to get out and run. I feel like he has a lot of potential also.
"Just come in and be solid. We don't need nothing crazy or nothing like that [from the freshmen]. Just come in and be solid."
Thompson doesn't know exactly how or when he'll be able to make his impact once the season begins, but for now he's following the simple message he's been given by Tennessee's coaches.
"We really haven't talked about roles or anything," he said. "We've just been working on skill development and all that. I don't really know what my role's going to be this year.
"The main focus of everything we do is to go as hard as we can to get ready for going game speed. That's what they always tell us: Go at game speed."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com 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 ...