Departure of Harris and Hopson signals swift end for Tennessee basketball success
Some may argue that Tennessee's recent basketball success ended the minute its architect Bruce Pearl was fired amidst the NCAA scandal that continues to rock the program to its core.
Now that the 2010-11 team's top two players--Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson--have decided to stay in the NBA Draft, forgoing their remaining combined four years of eligibility, new head coach Cuonzo Martin's job of keeping Tennessee among the nation's top 25 programs in the near future has become a nearly impossible task.
Tennessee fans and even Martin himself knew this was a distinct possibility, if not probability, as soon as the Vols season ended in March.
Still, supporters held out hope that Harris, the Vols '10-11 freshman sensation, would stick around to improve his late first round draft stock for the 2012 NBA Draft.
In the end, however, the opportunity was just too much for the talented small forward to pass up.
Scotty Hopson was supposed to be a freshman sensation three years ago. It was speculated that he would leave after each of his first two season's at Tennessee. Instead, inconsistent play has diminished his potential and hampered his entire career.
Hopson is considered a borderline late second round draft pick by most experts, making his decision to stay in the draft a head-scratcher.
In addition to losing those two players, Tennessee's two highly touted signees--Chris Jones and Kevin Ware--will not play at Tennessee next season. Jones will attend Northwest Florida State College after failing to qualify at UT.
Ware decided to re-open his recruitment following Pearl's dismissal and it appears he's no longer considering Tennessee.
Replacing those two top 100 players is unranked signee Wes Washpun who committed to Martin at Missouri State before signing at Tennessee when the coach made the move to Knoxville in late March.
Potentially joining Washpun are recent commits Quinton Chievous and Josh Richardson--both 6'5" shooting guards, neither ranked among the top 100 recruits.
Martin does have some talent left on the roster.
Soon-to-be sophomore point guard Trae Golden was the top high school player in Georgia prior to his freshman season at UT. Fellow Georgian Jordan McRae was one of the top 50 recruits in the nation heading into his freshman season as well.
But no player on the current roster, including McRae and Golden, has lived up to his potential. In most cases inconsistency has softened what should have been the rock solid core of Tennessee's reinvigorated basketball program over the past few years.
Now, Tennssee must try to continue its recent unprecedented run of success with a brand new coach who has only three seasons of head coaching experience, and with a roster full of inconsistent potential and a laud-less list of recruits.
If that's not enough to alter your half-full view of the situation, Tennessee has yet to receive its ruling from the NCAA for Bruce Pearl's indiscretions.
So, yes, things could get much worse soon.
Maybe this is being overly-pessimistic, but it appears that Tennessee basketball's time in the sun has come to a swift and sad end.