UT's 2010 basketball team took to the court for the first time Tuesday in an exhibition game against the Brevard Tornados, cruising to a 91-42 victory.
Tennessee is abundant in talent, especially from its freshmen. Two of those freshmen, Jordan McRae and Tobias Harris, started against Brevard. A third, Trae Golden, got ample playing time backing up point guard Melvin Goins.
"It was good to get out there," coach Bruce Pearl said. "The guys were excited to play. We've got a lot to learn though."
Tennessee took the lead early and was never really challenged by the much smaller Tornados squad.
In the first half, Harris led the Vols with 12 points and made plays inside the paint. Harris would finish with 16 pts, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
"Tobias was Tobias," Pearl said. "He's just solid. He's really unique as a freshman. He's such a mature kid. He has a nice presence."
Despite being a McDonald's high school All-American, Harris isn't concerned about what fans expect from him.
"I thought I played pretty well," Harris said. "We got the win, so that's all that really matters. Expectations aren't something I really look into. I'm just going to go out there and play my game each day."
Harris moved the ball down the court in transition with confidence, playing the point-forward position, which is key to the Tennessee offense.
"Coach Pearl, when he recruited me, told me about the point forward position," Harris said. "Tyler Smith also played (it), you know, brining the ball up the court creating for other people, that's my game."
Golden scored 11 points and 4 assists, and another freshman, Jordan McRae had 5 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
"I thought with Trae, the pace of the game offensively is going to be fine with him," Pearl said. "I think Trae can play a little better. One of the reasons I'm saying that is this is the first time we've seen our freshmen. Jordan McRae, same thing. Jordan has played a lot better than he played tonight."
The anchor for this year's team is junior Scotty Hopson. He led the team with 17 points and was 3-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. Hopson is stepping into a leadership role with confidence but needs to become a better leader going forward.
"I need to do more, I definitely need to do more," Hopson said. "I'm looking forward to getting better every day."
Hopson has big shoes to fill. Leaders like Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince guided the Vols to their first ever Elite Eight appearance. Hopson said having leaders like that set an example for him.
"JP and Wayne, and the rest of those guys, they were great leaders for me to look up to," Hopson said. "So just watching them and how they do it and then just stepping into the game the way I want to do it, my approach to the game, it's been helping me out a lot."
Many of the younger players, especially Harris, look up to Hopson, who was in a situation similar to Harris' in his freshman year, being one of the top recruits in the nation.
"I know exactly the pressure on him, I'm just helping him out anyway I can, just talking to him on and off the basketball court," Hopson said. "He's great. At his age, he's a lot smarter coming into the game than I was, but he's a good player, and he's going to do a lot of good things for us."
The Vols won the game easily, and Brevard was never a factor, but Pearl thought there were many areas that need to be improved upon between now and the season opener.
"We've got a long way to go," Pearl said. "We didn't create enough turnovers."
Plenty of talent is on this Tennessee team, which has fans on Rocky Top looking forward to the season. The task that remains before them is finding chemistry on the court.
"There's still a lot to be done as far as chemistry is concerned," Hopson said. "We've got five new guys, and we're all trying to gel together, four new starters today, and I know it's tough on us."
The Vols have one more exhibition Nov. 8 against Indianapolis before the season tips off against UT-Chattanooga on Nov. 12.