Oh, to be Robert Hubbs.
The 18-year-old’s Tennessee career is off and running. He spent the past three weeks dunking and shooting and “giving a little bit to the fans” at the Rocky Top League. He untied his shoes after every game surrounded by waylaying fans. He autographed scraps of paper and T-shirts on backs.
Hubbs can’t stroll around the mall without being stopped. “We can’t wait to see you in orange,” he’s told, constantly.
Though invasive, this — simply being Robert Hubbs — is the easy part. His career UT stat line still reads: zero games, zero points, zero everything.
The stat that he does have is five, as in stars.
“I hear it just about every day,” he said earlier this week, following another show at Rocky Top League.
Hubbs verbally committed to coach Cuonzo Martin and the Vols way, way back on Sept. 18, 2012. The recruiting coup lit the Internet on fire in Tennessee. Message boards tripped over themselves. The News Sentinel’s online report amassed 35,899 page views.
The hype hasn’t waned. Hubbs is rated a five-star 2013 prospect by every recruiting outlet and was ranked by 247Sports.com as the nation’s 20th-best overall prospect, No. 4 shooting guard and the top overall player in the state of Tennessee. He averaged 25 points per game while leading Dyer County High School to a 31-4 record last year.
But as is the case for every touted high school prospect, the flipside comes eventually — the balanced burden of early stardom.
“I definitely have to live up to it, but I try not to worry too much about that,” Hubbs said. “I’m here to play my game. I can’t worry about what other people say about me. All that matters is what you do on the court.”
In that regard, UT is an advantageous home. The Vols welcome back a veteran roster filled with anchors. Hubbs gets to be what he is, a freshman.
“We try to lead him as much as we can,” said senior guard Jordan McRae. “We tell him all the time, ‘Don’t worry about what others expect you to do. Do what you can.’ ”
Which is a lot. Hubbs utilizes a velvety right-handed jump shot and
can fire off the bounce or the catch. He glides more than he sprints and has a 33-inch flat-footed vertical. The gifts are natural. Now he’s working on the rest.
“On a daily basis, I’m going to be in the weight room for a good hour, hour and a half,” Hubbs said. “Coach Nick (Nicodemus Christopher, the Vols’ strength coach) pushes me to my limit. He thinks my body has potential.”
Seven pounds of added muscle is the result. At 6-foot-5, Hubbs is willowy and athletic, but can add more power to his frame.
“I can feel myself physically changing every day — stronger, quicker, everything,” he said.
So the good is getting better. Back when Hubbs committed to Tennessee, ESPN senior recruiting analyst Dave Telep told the News Sentinel that he can “grow into being a guy that carries the load as a scorer” and has “a great frame in terms of size and skill level and legit range from behind the arc.”
The summer workouts have been a grind for Hubbs. He’s still adjusting to 6 a.m. wake-up calls and playing Division I defense.
“I’m trying to get better defensively,” he said. “It’s fun competing with older guys. That’s what you want. You want the people who make you better.”
Hubbs averaged 22 points per outing in his six-game, Knoxville debut at the Rocky Top League. Some of the dunks were showstoppers. He shot 42.2 percent from the field and launched 50 3-pointers, many of the ill-advised rec-league variety, and made 16.
Despite all eyes on him, Hubbs was unassuming and understated. He didn’t parade with pride or chutzpah.
He didn’t need to.
Being Robert Hubbs is enough.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn