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Scotty Hopson: With or Without You

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There's an old saying about assumptions, and I will happily apply it to myself if we're all wrong and Tobias Harris ends up returning to Knoxville for another year.  But it seems more likely every day that the right move will be for Harris to go pro:'s Chad Ford says Tobias "may have been the most underrated prospect we discussed during the season."  Ford says Tobias has a legitimate chance to become a lottery pick (one of the Top 14 selections); his entire writeup is available to ESPN Insiders here.  Andy Katz is one of many local and national media who expect Tobias to leave his name in the draft when Sunday's deadline arrives.

Tobias is currently projected to go 16th in the latest mock from Draft Express, and is also the 16th overall player in ESPN's Top 100.  All signs point to the NBA.

Scotty Hopson, true to form, is much more mysterious.

In the same links above, Hopson is the second round pick of the Boston Celtics (woo!) in the mock from Draft Express; while I'd love to see Hopson go to Boston, that also puts him just five spots away from not being drafted at all.  In ESPN's Top 100 Hopson is 42nd overall - again, should be drafted, but probably not in the guaranteed money of the first round.  Ford recommends that Hopson return to Knoxville, while Katz puts Scotty in a group of six players that GM's are most unsure whether they will ultimately stay or go.

When Hopson came to Knoxville as a McDonald's All-American, our expectations were set so high right away that it feels like he has always struggled to reach them.  As such, it seems easy for some Tennessee fans to be indifferent to Hopson's decision to stay or go.

But Tennessee's roster takes exception to your indifference.   

Not only does Scotty Hopson need to come back for his own sake, the absence of Tobias Harris and Chris Jones means the Vols need Hopson to return, badly.  There are a number of ways Hopson could get better, but none as significant as how much better the 2011-12 Vols would be with him than without him.

Say what you will about Hopson's play, but I also remember being among a large group of people who had some issues with the way J.P. Prince played while he was here...and then noting repeatedly how much we missed him this year.  If Hopson leaves, those conversations will take place at a highly increased rate next season when we're wondering why we can't score any points.

Because if Hopson goes pro, who is the leading scorer for the Vols next season?

Logic suggests Cameron Tatum, but he struggled so much in the second half of the year just trying to be the third option last year.  After Tatum's 8.8 points per game last season, you have to go all the way down to Skylar McBee and Trae Golden's 3.0 points per game to find the next highest returning scorer.  And it's incredibly unfair to ask Kenny Hall or Jordan McRae to step in and immediately become the top scoring option.  Martin's brand of basketball sounds like one that will be committed to effort on the defensive end and not turning it over on the offensive end - interestingly, perhaps the two things Hopson needs to work on the most - but you've got to have somebody who can put the ball in the basket.  Ask Kevin O'Neill.

While the Vols are not guaranteed to be an NCAA Tournament team if Hopson returns, they almost certainly are not one without him.  Much of Cuonzo Martin's fate will be tied to the 2012 recruiting class, and the Vols will always have an easier time on the recruiting trail if their product is good.  If Hopson returns, there is at least some hope that Tennessee can continue to move forward without going through a significant, multi-year dropoff. 

The "without you" part of this would look at Hopson and see a player who has missed every workout with the new coaching staff.  You'd give him a pass if not for Tobias, who is much more of a sure thing in the draft but still found time to workout with the Vols and the new staff.  Scotty Hopson is allowed to do what he believes to be best for him, but the fact that he hasn't really been a part of Tennessee's program since Cuonzo Martin's press conference also makes it easier for fans to turn their backs on him.

But it seems clear that the best possible outcome for both Scotty Hopson and Tennessee is #32 returning for his senior season.  Will Hopson (and the people around him) have enough sense to see it?  And if they do, will Tennessee fans have enough sense to appreciate it?