First came the highly-touted, five-star recruit; the so-called prodigy set to guide UT back to the latter rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Shortly thereafter, the son of a 13-year NBA vet arrived; his confident yet humble temperament instantly permeating through the ranks of his teammates.

Finally came the coveted in-state prospect, who – after being wrestled away in a tough recruiting battle – became the Vols' first true freshman to start at point guard in nearly three years.

Together the three — Robert Hubbs III, A.J. Davis and Darius Thompson — form the 2013 UT freshman class, a group that, according to senior Jordan McRae, has eagerly soaked up all knowledge and advice sent their direction since the trio arrived in Knoxville.

"I think these freshmen, it's a great class," McRae said at UT's basketball media day on Oct. 7. "They're all willing to learn. They work really hard. You can't ask any more from just those two statements alone ... That's what you need from a freshman."

A unanimous, top-5 shooting guard who chose the Vols over powerhouses Duke and Kentucky, Hubbs credited his UT love affair to head coach Cuonzo Martin's messages in the recruitment process, specifically those that had little to do with basketball.

"He talks about outside of basketball and what's going to happen 30 years down your life," Hubbs said. "How are you going to prepare yourself and just things like that. It's not always about basketball.

"At the end of the day, you're still going to be a young man, and you got to learn how to take things as a young man."

Labeled as the missing ingredient in the Vols' recently unsuccessful Big Dance recipes, the Newbern, Tenn., native has dominated basketball conversations since his September 2012 commitment. That buzz has only continued since Hubbs' arrival in Knoxville following his March enrollment.

"I've been approached a couple times, you know, if I go out and get something to eat or something," Hubbs said. "Someone will say something to me every once in a while.

"It definitely feels good just to know that (people) know who you are and that you play for Tennessee, things like that."

In UT's two exhibition games, the former McDonald's All-American nominee led the team in minutes and was third in scoring, something Martin sees transferring into regular season play.

"One thing Robert always can depend on is shooting the ball, and around the rim, he is explosive," Martin said after the Vols' exhibition win over Florida Southern on Nov. 2. "He is a guy that just plays the game. He plays within himself. He understands his role. He knows what he needs to do to be successful."

Davis, whose commitment was announced only hours after his freshman counterpart, arrived on campus in late May after his senior season at Buford (Ga.) High School, one that included a 25-7 record and a state semifinal appearance.

He also brought in an advanced understanding of effort and accountability on the court, a lesson his father stressed in the early stages of his basketball career.

"My dad, he made a living off just really playing hard, so that's his biggest thing," Davis said of his father Antonio, a former second-round pick by the Indiana Pacers. "He always just told me that skills and all that can be taught, but no one can teach you how to play hard."

Those attributes shined through in Davis' collegiate debut as the first-year small forward helped hold Florida Southern to under 38 percent shooting, while grabbing a freshman-high three rebounds in 22 minutes.

"I had no idea how much I was going to play," Davis said after the 105-80 win over the Mocs. "I was gonna trust coach, whatever he felt was best if I need to be in the game or not. If I wasn't gonna be in the game, I was just gonna cheer for my team and encourage everybody else."

While Davis and Hubbs solidified their spots on the UT roster early in the fall, the case wasn't the same for Darius Thompson, who signed with the Vols this past spring after initially pledging to don the black and gold of Vanderbilt.

The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native credits a persistent Martin for the change of heart.

"Coach Martin was recruiting me. Vanderbilt was recruiting me, and I committed to Vanderbilt," Thompson said. "But then I just pulled out from (my commitment), and I just kept talking with Tennessee, and I really liked it here.

"I used to come to Tennessee camps every year and just dreamed of coming here ... I got that call from coach Martin, and it was a dream come true."

Amid the SEC recruiting battle that dragged on until mid-April 2013, Thompson was busy leading Blackman High School to a perfect 30-0 record entering the Tennessee State Basketball Tournament, averaging more than 16 points and six assists along the way.

Despite the success, the locker room message — as expected — was one that stressed humility.

"Our coach, he just told us to keep an even-keel mindset," Thompson said. "Don't get over-excited about being No. 1 in the state ... Don't overlook anybody, or don't think you're better than them because you're ranked higher."

The end result, however, was an unfavorable one as the Blaze fell to Brentwood in the state quarterfinals, 52-49.

"We played a team we'd already beat by 30 points," Thompson said. "We overlooked them, and we ended up losing to them."

Now at UT and equipped with an important lesson, the once-Class AAA Mr. Basketball finalist is ready to move forward as an integral part of Martin's game plan, focusing more than ever on the minute details on both sides of ball.

"The little details, you've got to do on offense and defense," Thompson said. "Like where you're supposed to be at certain times ... just little things like that, just the little details."