UT sophomore wing Jordan McRae discusses the Pilot Rocky Top League
"My mindset coming out here this summer was to give the fans something to look forward to,'' said McRae, who averaged 45.7 points per game for the News Sentinel. "We read the blogs and chatboards, and we (UT players) want to let the fans know it's not gonna be one of those years.''
The basketball preview magazines and top 25 polls are a few months from coming out, but it's safe to say the Vols won't be projected to make the NCAA tournament nor finish in the top half of the SEC.
This summer at Bearden High School, however, select Vols like McRae and projected starting point guard Trae Golden shined bright.
A panel of media, coaches and league officials voted Golden the Pilot Rocky Top League MVP after the sophomore point guard led his Choice Spine team to an undefeated record and averaged nearly 30 points and 10 assists per game. McRae was named the Most Outstanding Player.
Former UT coach Bruce Pearl said McRae's talents were obvious from the onset of his recruitment. But like many of the other former backups who will likely start for new Vols coach Cuonzo Martin, McRae needed some seasoning.
"Jordy has the athleticism, and the quickness and the skill package,'' said Pearl, who watched McRae and Golden face off in the Pilot Rocky Top League championship game Wednesday night. "It was hard not playing him, but you've got to look at it long-term; taking the ball away from him made him mature.
"I really wanted to redshirt him, but he didn't want to,'' he said. "It's also important to point out that Jordy did a great job in the classroom, and I was very proud of him for becoming a Vol Scholar.''
Pearl said another reason the 6-7 McRae didn't play more was that UT was loaded on the wing with veterans Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum and Josh Bone.
"You look at Trae, and he's taking better care of his body - he learned a lot of that from Tobias (Harris),'' Pearl said. "Trae is more fit and he's quicker. He has a terrific offensive game, and he's very good with the ball on the fast break.''
Former Vols player Jon Higgins, who holds UT's single-season record for 3-point field goal percentage (2000-01, 48.6 percent), said UT's backcourt looks promising with Golden and McRae.
"This is the Rocky Top League, but Trae has shown a lot of growth since last year with his decision making and how he controls the team,'' said Higgins, who was a teammate of Golden's this summer and took a turn at guarding McRae in both of the teams' meetings. "Jordan was the most explosive scorer the Rocky Top League has ever seen. He has all the tools; he can shoot it, and he's one of the best finishers I've seen come through UT in a long time.
"This can be a very good perimeter team, especially if Skylar (McBee) gets to hitting the three,'' he said. "The key for all of them is to keep improving, and Jordan needs to keep adding strength and weight.''