KNOXVILLE -- Talented freshmen already have made some pretty big splashes at this very early stage of the college basketball season.
Tennessee's Robert Hubbs III still is looking for his breakout game or big-time moment.
Three games into his career, the former five-star recruit from Dyer County High School in West Tennessee is feeling his way into things for the Volunteers, who host Tennessee State tonight.
After a scoreless opener in the loss at Xavier, Hubbs scored 13 points, all but 11 of them in the second half, of Tennessee's rout of The Citadel on Monday night.
"I took a lot of confidence," Hubbs said before Wednesday's practice. "I stepped my game up a lot in the second half. I rebounded the ball a little bit more, just making plays for other guys.
"It's going about how I expected. I knew it was going to be some struggles at the beginning, but I've still got to fight through it and continue to be aggressive."
Within the first month of the seen, the skill and flashiness of freshmen like Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas have dominated the storylines. Chances are you've seen highlights from one or all three on ESPN at some point. That particular trio figures to be lottery picks in next summer's NBA draft.
Yet Hubbs, who scored 2,464 points in his four-year high school career, begins his career as the Vols' sixth man playing behind All-SEC senior and league player of the year candidate Jordan McRae and two-year starter Josh Richardson on the wing for Tennessee.
While Hubbs admitted it's been challenging to go from high school superstar to a role off the bench in college, he believes it's good for his development he doesn't have to bear the weight of expectations and assume a role of having to come in and score 20 points a game right away.
"We've got multiple guys that can score the ball," he said.
"It's big adjustment," he added, "but I mean, I'm going to continue to play hard coming off the bench and just do what I do."
Having seen what Hubbs can do in practice, summer league and pickup games, his teammates want to see more of it in game situations. The 6-foot-6, 206-pounder has a nice shooting stroke and excellent athletic ability.
He hit two 3-pointers against South Carolina-Upstate for his first collegiate points, and his offense on Monday included an alley-oop dunk off a lob from fellow freshman Darius Thompson and a putback following an offensive rebound.
"He's a talented freshman," Vols point guard and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton said. "He can bring a lot to the game -- [shooting], his athleticism -- and all he has to do is get more aggressive. I tell him all the time he has a gifted ability, and he just has to attack more and get more aggressive and just stay down on defense, and that's something he's been working on after practice."
Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee's third-year coach, also wants to see the second five-star player he's signed for the Vols become more aggressive.
"He's one of those guys that's always been that type of player," he said. "He scored it a lot in high school, but the game came to him because everything went through him. It's different here, because you've got four other guys that are good basketball players on the floor with him.
"With him, I thought he was his best since he's been here as far as attacking in the last game, but [it's] just taking what the defense gives him. I thought he did a better job of using his athleticism around the rim in the last game. He has to do more than that, because he has the ability to go up over guys, and we need to see more of that."
It's still a learning process for Hubbs on the defensive end in a defense-first program for a defense-first coach, and one moment in The Citadel game exemplified that.
The player Hubbs was defending easily drove past him and was fouled when another Tennessee player rotated over to black the driver's path to the basket.
Within seconds, Richardson hopped up off the bench and entered for the freshman.
"I just think it's making him understand to defend at a high level and taking pride in it," Martin said. "I never understood the fact that when guys come from high school, they're supposed to be better scorers than defenders. I think it's the other way around.
"Even though guys score a lot in high school, it doesn't necessarily mean they're great scorers. You can see that when guys transition to the college game, but I think everybody should be able to defend. It's just what you have in you, whether you have the principles or not."
As the season progresses and Tennessee faces some key non-conference games before starting SEC play, Hubbs will need to continue feeling out his role and become a spark off the bench for the veteran Vols.
"I feel like he's doing a lot better," Richardson said. "He's doing a better job of chasing off screens away from the ball. He's been moving his feet on defense, not fouling or anything, and he's taking good shots. I think he's doing a good job.
"He's a humble guy. He doesn't have the big head, and he hasn't showed us that he's nervous at all because of all the hype. He's handled it well."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...