Tennessee opens a new basketball season Tuesday night at Xavier, in which five new Vols will be making their debut. There’s considerable excitement about a couple of them, freshman Robert Hubbs and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton.
A reminder of Bernard King’s amazing 1974 debut — courtesy of ESPN Films’ “30 for 30″ doc on “Bernie and Ernie” — triggered a thought train on debuts in general. It’s unlikely anyone will ever top King’s debut. He scored 42 points against Wisconsin-Milwaukee to tip off the 74-75 season. That still ranks as the ninth-best scoring game ever by a Volunteer.
King’s buddy had a pretty nice debut, too. Ernie Grunfeld rang up 28 against North Texas in his debut one year before King. Grunfeld left in 1977 as the school’s all-time scoring leader with 2,249 points. King (1,962 points, 25.8 ppg) would have topped him if he’d stuck around for his senior year.
As for the current Vols, Jarnell Stokes turned heads with his 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 17 minutes against No. 2 Kentucky on Jan. 14, 2012. Fresh to campus from early high school graduation, Stokes held his own against the eventual national champions.
But in most cases, you can’t rush to judgement based on first impressions of a player, especially a freshman. Dale Ellis would score 2,065 points at UT, which ranks sixth on the career list. He only got one of them on opening night in 1979.
Dyron Nix ranks eighth, with 1,877 points. Not a one of them came in his 1985 debut against Southeast Louisiana. Nix isn’t the only Vol great who walked off the court with a goose egg in his debut box score: Carl Widseth (1,683 points, 10th) in 1952; Steve Hamer (1,418 points, 18th) in 1992; Lang Wiseman (1,156 points, 38th) in 1989.
The most misleading debut on my watch came on Nov. 24, 1996. Freshman guard Cornelius Jackson scored 23 points against Morehead State. He was 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-4 from 3-point range. And he would never score more than 8 points again in a freshman year in which he shot 26 percent from the field and 20.4 percent from 3-point range. Jackson transferred after his one season to Marshall. He’d peaked on opening night.
Allan Houston, whose 2,801 points, top UT’s list and rank No. 2 in SEC history, opened with 17 points in a win over Austin Peay in 1989.
Here’s a list of some other impressive debuts, none of which were false advertising. All went on to join the 1,000-point club:
Gene Tormohlen, 23 points vs Furman, 1956.
Austin “Red” Robbins, 18 vs Richmond, 1964.
A.W. Davis, 17 vs ETSU, 1962.
Ron Widby, 16 vs Richmond, 1964.
Ron Slay, 17 vs Elon, 1999.
Scotty Hopson, 17 vs Chattanooga, 2008.
Tobias Harris rang up 18 points against Chattanooga in 2010, hitting 7 of 11 shots. There were, no doubt, NBA scouts in the house. Harris was gone after his freshman season.
Somewhere between big splash and no splash, there have been the quiet debuts. Tony White, who ranks third with 2,219 points and twice led the SEC in scoring, got 9 points against Ohio Northern in 1983.
Chris Lofton, No. 4 with 2,131 points, got 5 points against Stanford in the opening round of the 2004 Maui Classic. He was 1 of 4 from 3-point range.
Reggie Johnson, No. 5 with 2,103 points, scored 5 against South Florida in the 1976-77 season-opener. He would average 11.0 ppg as a freshman, which was only good for fourth on the team behind King, Grunfeld and Mike Jackson.
Vincent Yarbrough, No. 9 with 1,737 points, would just as soon forget his debut. The McDonald’s All-American scored 2 points, going 1-of-8 against Arizona in 1998.
Here’s how some other notable Vols fared in their opening games:
Brandon Wharton (1,651 points, No. 11) 10 points, 7 assists vs Georgia State in 1996.
Wayne Chism (1,608 points, No. 12) 10 points in 11 minutes vs MTSU in 2006.
Tony Harris (1,588 points, No. 14) 9 points vs Winthrop in 1997.
C.J. Watson (1,424 points, No. 17) 3 points in 34 minutes vs Gardner-Webb in 2002.
JaJuan Smith (1,384 points, No. 20) 0 points in 1 minute vs Stanford in 2004.
Isiah Victor (1,304 points, No. 24) 10 points vs Winthrop in 1997.
Brandon Crump (1,267 points, No. 24) 12 points vs Tennessee Tech in 2001.
C.J. Black (1,261 points, No. 26) 8 points, 10 rebounds vs Morehead State in 1996.
Tyler Smith (1,219 points,No. 30) 9 points vs Temple, in 2008.
Bobby Maze deserves a mention. He had 12 points and 11 assists in his 2008 debut against Chattanooga. Big Charles Hathaway had 11 points and 8 rebounds against Morehead State in 1996.
In the Didn’t Keep It Going Department, Josh Tabb scored 13 points in his 2006 debut against MTSU, and Jemere Hendrix had 12 points and 9 boards against Wofford in 2003.
Finally, Xavier won’t be Antonio Barton’s first debut. He scored 17 as a Memphis freshman agaisnt Centenary in 2010. I’m pretty sure Vol fans and coach Cuonzo Martin would take that.