Tuesday night’s opener at Xavier saw Tennessee basketball fans eagerly waiting to see what a heralded freshman class – the so-called “Three Amigos” – could do. Those fans are still waiting.
Basically, The Three Amigos could’ve been called The Three No-Shows.
Five-star guard Robert Hubbs went 0 for 4 from the field, including 0 for 2 from 3-point range. He finished with zero points and 1 rebound in 12 minutes.
Highly regarded three-star Darius Thompson started at the point but played just 10 minutes. His stat line showed 0 for 1 from the field, 0 for 2 from the foul line, with 1 rebound and 2 steals.
Promising three-star forward A.J. Davis was the only freshman to score. He was 1 for 3 on field-goal tries and 0 for 1 on free-throw attempts, finishing with 2 points and 2 rebounds in 7 backup minutes.
Game 1 jitters obviously affected the rookies. Playing their college debuts on the road did, too. That’s why The Three Amigos should make considerably more impact tonight at 7 in the home opener against South Carolina Upstate.
Senior guard Jordan McRae certainly believes in the three rookies.
“It’s a great class,” he said recently. “Overall, they all can play. You don’t have to teach them. They understand the game well, and they seek information. They’re doing everything they can to get better.”
Thompson, a 6-foot-5 point guard from Murfreesboro, looked a lot more assertive in the exhibition opener (9 points, 4 assists in 20 minutes) than he did in Tuesday’s regular-season opener. Odds are, he’ll be fine once he gets comfortable.
“Darius is going to be a great shooter at the point,” McRae said. “He understands the game really well. It’s surprising to see a freshman with that kind of IQ.”
Hubbs, a 6-foot-6 wing from Newbern, shot the lights out in the first exhibition game, hitting 7 of 12 attempts (3 of 5 beyond the arc) and scoring 17 points in 29 minutes. The goose egg he hung up against Xavier is unlikely to be repeated many times this season.
“Hubbs is really athletic,” McRae said. “He’s a slasher who can shoot with deep range.”
Davis, a 6-foot-9, 212-pound combo forward, is a tweener who shows flashes on the inside and on the perimeter.
“A.J. is like a J.P. Prince,” McRae said, referring to a former Vol who helped Tennessee reach the Elite Eight in 2010. “He really attacks the basket. He’s a lefty, and lefties tend to be a little hard to guard anyway.”
In addition to the three freshmen, Tennessee’s 2013 newcomers include two transfers – Rawane Ndiaye (Indian Hills Community College) and Antonio Barton (University of Memphis). The 6-foot-10, 275-pound Ndiaye had a decent debut against Xavier, going 0 for 1 from the field and 0 for 3 from the foul line but grabbing 4 rebounds in 7 minutes. He was signed to be a space-eater, not a difference-maker, so he should do fine in his limited role.
“Pops is a big force down there,” McRae said. “He creates a lot of space and he can finish well. That’s what we need him to do.”
Ultimately, only one newcomer contributed significantly in Game 1. That would be Barton. After stalling early, the offense started to click when he came off the bench to assume the point-guard duties. After three years of college competition at Memphis, he brings both experience and poise to the Vol backcourt. His unselfish nature has enabled him to bond quickly with his new teammates.
“Antonio’s fine,” McRae said. “We knew he was from the way he was talking during individual workouts. It seems like Antonio’s been here two or three years already.”
Barton is one of four seniors on this Tennessee roster. McRae, Jeronne Maymon and D’Montre Edwards are the others. The Vols also rely heavily on junior starters Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson. Clearly, this is a veteran team.
“It makes a lot of difference,” McRae said. “This year we’re concentrating on going out and having a faster start than we have in the past. Having an older team is better for that.”
The Vols laid an egg in their opener at Xavier, however, so putting together a string of wins is crucial.
“We’re just trying to start a season off right,” McRae said. “We don’t want to go out and dig a hole like we have the past two years. Having an older team we know how important it is to start off fast.”
Even being an “older team,” however, the Vols will need help from their freshman class.
Maybe The Three Amigos will start displaying some of that fancy shooting they're known for tonight.