Vols freshman Robert Hubbs shrugs off expectations

Vols freshman Robert Hubbs shrugs off expectations

June 26th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- Robert Hubbs sat unassumingly listening to music on his headphones last Wednesday night, his 6-foot-5 frame sprawled across the bleachers of the Christian Academy of Knoxville gym and his Tennessee basketball gear the only items betraying his anonymity.

There's also the five-star rating attached to the Volunteers' prized freshman's name that renders moot his understated appearance.

Many eyes at the Rocky Top League are on Hubbs during his unofficial debut, and the expectations began piling up on his shoulders when he committed to Cuonzo Martin and the Vols last September.

Fair or not, it's the way it is if you're rated as one of the nation's top players.

"I don't think about that stuff," Hubbs said after a 28-point summer-league performance Monday night. "I just go out and play my game and just have fun. I really don't pay attention to that stuff.

"I just go out and do what I have to do. I'm not worried about that. I'm just here to work hard every day, continue to work hard every day and go out there and do what I have to do."

Just don't expect him to broadcast much of it.

On the floor, Hubbs' facial expression rarely seems to change. He speaks rather quietly. A couple of his teammates confirmed his low-key persona.

"He's not big-headed or anything like that," said fellow freshman Darius Thompson.

"He talks," added Jordan McRae, Tennessee's top scorer last season, "but he's kind of like how Jarnell [Stokes] is a little bit. When he does say something, it's funny."

Hubbs is from Newbern, a town with a 2011 population of 3,302, in the northwest corner of Tennessee, but he doesn't attribute his style to his hometown.

"I associate with people, but most times it's just by myself trying to chill or stay focused," he said. "It's just how I am. It's just me.

"I'm always like that, wherever I am."

He averaged 25 points and seven rebounds a game in leading Dyer County to the Class AAA state-championship game as a senior. Ranked 12th nationally by Rivals.com when he committed, Hubbs attracted scholarship offers from Duke, Florida, Arkansas and others. Late interest arrived from Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA.

"Lot of potential," Vols junior guard Josh Richardson said. "He's a freak athlete and he has a nice shot. I feel like he'll be able to help us a lot."

Added Thompson: "Robert's going to be really, really good. He's probably the most athletic person on the team."

While he's shown deep range on his 3-point shot and his athletic ability on dribble drives and at the rim, Hubbs knows he must improve his on-ball perimeter defense -- he typically guarded the opponent's biggest player in high school -- and add strength to his slender frame.

"[Martin] talks to me every day," Hubbs said. "What I need to work on, where I need to get better, how I need to do this, how to approach this defensively and all that."

His new teammates are pushing him to reach his potential, and he's challenged them to avoid going easy on him in scrimmage settings.

"Hubbs is going to be a vital piece to what we're going to be doing next year," McRae said. "I'm just on him a lot. He can tell you, I talk to him and I text him a lot. Any time I'm going to the gym, I text him [to come].

"I wasn't nearly as good as he is at 17. Just having somebody who you can look up to, who knows it -- Hubbs is going to be a great player. He's only 17 years old, and the sky's the limit."

The question is when will Hubbs reach that ceiling. In the past five seasons, 33 recruits rated as five-star prospects by Rivals.com have entered the NBA draft after their freshman seasons. While that's only 26 percent of the five-star crop in those classes, the assumption now is a five-star billing means one-and-done talent.

Hubbs said he has in his mind what he needs to do, and the Vols are trying to guide him through the adjustment to college basketball and the expectations.

"Us just trying to lead him as much we can, I think that's enough," McRae said. "We told him, 'Don't worry about what anybody expects you to do. Do what you can, keep trying to get better every day and work on your game.' Everything will pan out."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.