Leadership will be the difference for Tennessee

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NEW YORK – Leadership is a tricky thing to quantify.

There are people who lead by example. There are players who lead with their play. There are vocal leaders, leading scorers, and leading rebounders. Simply put, there’s more than one way to be a leader.

I think its safe to say leadership falls under the Rule of Porn. Its difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.

And these last couple of years, we haven’t seen great leadership from Tennessee. They’ve lacked a true go-to scorer since Chris Lofton graduated. As good as Bobby Maze was, he was a bit reckless and inconsistent for a point guard. Its a cheap shot, I know, but with a coach that shows no regard for the rules, is it any surprise that his players have had trouble off the court?

On the court, at least, Tennessee seems to be making an improvement, at least during a 77-72 win against Virginia Commonwealth Wednesday night.

Scotty Hopson picked up his fourth foul with 3:17 left in the second half. He pushed Brandon Burgess in the back, sending him to the line, after Cameron Tatum missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Hopson’s reaction wasn’t one of pleasure, to say the least. He stared the ref down, looking like he was getting ready to say something when senior point guard Melvin Goins stepped in.

“You did, right? Yo, you did it, right? Then get down there!”

Hopson looked at him, nodded, and jogged down to the other end, where he was promptly pulled from the game. He went to the bench, slapped a couple of hands, and turned to face the action.

“Box out!”

This is the same Scotty Hopson who may just have the most NBA potential of anyone in the SEC. He’s also the only member of the Class of 2008’s top ten recruits that is not yet in the NBA.

Why?

A lack of aggressiveness, for one. He’s spent his first two seasons in Knoxville far too content settling for jumpers and disappearing offensively. Coming into tonight’s game, Hopson was averaging 14.3 ppg, but he hasn’t exactly looked like a dominant offensive force. He’s also shot 2-13 from deep on the season.

So tonight, Hopson came out and really attacked the rim. Not recklessly, mind you, but when the flow of the offense gave him a lane. He also went to the glass as hard as I’ve ever seen, finishing with 11 boards. (When he first saw the box score in the press room, his reaction was “oh yeah, double-double.”)

“I feel like that’s what is expected on this team,” Hopson said after the game. “I’m a leader. When it’s time to lead, we need a bucket or a big play, I have to step up and do that for this team.”

“I think that is what is expected of me.”

He wasn’t the only one impressed with his performance.

“I thought he was fairly patient and didn’t force,” head coach Bruce Pearl said after the game. “You didn’t see any body language that indicated ‘I didn’t have a big first half.'”

“Once he got to taking it in there and taking it deep, finishing with contact and commanding a better whistle, I thought that was good.”

Tennessee showed some things tonight. Trae Golden is a shooting guard making the transition to the point, but he showed some poise against VCU finishing with seven assists to just two turnovers. Brian Williams grabbed 13 boards (five offensive), blocked two shots, and hit 3-4 free throws down the stretch. Tobias Harris struggled late, but his nine early points really set the tone.

But we’ve known Tennessee had the pieces.

It looks like they are starting to develop the leadership needed to turn those pieces into a finished product.