Photo by Adam Brimer
“I said, 'I’m not drafted, am I O.K. with that?’ ” Hopson said, referring to being snubbed in the NBA draft in Newark, N.J. “I asked myself if I was going to let the critics win, and if I was gonna hang my head, put my chin on my chest and accept it.
“No. I’m taking the next step to become an NBA player, and I’m not going to give up.’’
Hopson’s advisor, Larry Marshall, and his agent, Alberto Ebanks, talked with a half-dozen NBA teams on Friday about potential free-agent deals that would land Hopson in a camp at the conclusion of a pending lockout.
Hopson had particularly good workouts with Miami, Sacramento, San Antonio, Boston and Detroit, though Hopson’s agent wouldn’t tip his hand as to which team will get his client’s services via the free agent route.
“Once you get to the second round of the NBA draft, being picked is just a formal invitation to attend training camp,’’ Ebanks said. “Going forward, I would be very surprised if he’s not on someone’s roster. Sometimes a setback like this motivates you and helps you in a way that you can’t identify. This is fuel for what we are trying to do.’’
Specifically, that would be to show NBA teams that Hopson, a McDonald’s high school All-American and All-SEC shooting guard, is capable of performing to the best of his abilities on a consistent basis.
Former UT coach Bruce Pearl said following Thursday’s draft that “it’s as simple as Scotty getting his motor running, and keeping it running.’’
Hopson, who looked every bit the part of a lottery pick early in the season, scoring 27 points in a win at Pittsburgh and capturing tournament MVP honors after leading the Vols to wins over Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth in the NIT Season Tip-Off, agreed with his former coach’s assessment.
“The games that I had the most success in had nothing to do with the opponent — and that’s no disrespect to any of the great teams we played,’’ Hopson said. “There were times I let myself get in my own way. Whether it was my own fears or frustrations about things that weren’t even related to the game.
“There were a lot of things on my mind, a lot of pressures, and I shouldn’t have let if affect my game,’’ he said. “I regret not being strong enough mentally to take those things on like I needed to.’’
Hopson’s dark draft night started in Detroit, when after a workout with the Pistons, his flight to New York was delayed.
“I didn’t land until 9:30 (p.m.), and they were on about the 20th pick,’’ he said. “I finally got there and called my mom, who was inside, and they were on the 28th pick. I told her I was going to see how the first round goes before going in.
“I was putting on my suit when the first round ended, and I decided I wasn’t going to go in.’’
Hopson’s mother came outside the arena to greet her son, and the two shared a long embrace. Hopson spent the rest of the night sitting in a car, listening to the draft on the radio.
“This is what Scotty needed to get him even more focused on the real world,’’ Marshall said. “He has grown up a lot in these last 16 hours.
“He told us he screwed up, and I heard him apologize to his mother and tell her that he let her down. He said, `I can’t blame anybody but myself.’ ‘’
Hopson said it was humbling to learn that players who had less ability than him were more desirable to NBA teams.
“After that 60th pick, it all hit me hard, and it didn’t matter what anyone, anywhere, had to say about it,’’ Hopson said. “I just knew there was work left to be done.
“When I made my decision to turn professional, I told myself that throughout the process I was going to go as hard as I could and have no regrets,’’ he said. “I still believe that some way or another, I’m going to play in the NBA and have a great career.
“It never occurred to me that this is the way it was going to happen. The draft is over, but the process isn’t.’’