Hubbs welcomes Vols' uncharacteristic coaching stability
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) For the first time in his college career, Tennessee senior guard Robert Hubbs III isn't adapting to a new coach.
Hubbs played for Cuonzo Martin as a freshman and Donnie Tyndall as a sophomore before spending his junior year with Rick Barnes, who is gearing up for the second season of his Tennessee coaching tenure. Hubbs says he is benefiting from not having to deal with a coaching change for once.
''It just feels comfortable now,'' Hubbs said.
The unfamiliar sense of stability comes just in time for Hubbs as he tries to make the most of his senior season. Rated as a top-25 recruit by Rivals and 247Sports when he signed with Tennessee, the 6-foot-4 guard has struggled with injuries and inconsistency for much of his career.
Tennessee needs a breakthrough year from Hubbs as the Volunteers try to bounce back after going 15-19 last season and posting their first losing record since 2004-05.
Hubbs, who averaged 10.6 points per game last season, is Tennessee's top returning scorer. He also is one of the few experienced performers on a team that will have eight players making their Tennessee debuts this season (six true freshmen, redshirt freshman Lamonte Turner and graduate transfer Lew Evans). The only other senior on the roster is Evans, who played for Utah State last season.
''We'd like to see him make those kinds of strides that a guy like Kevin Punter made a year ago,'' Barnes said. ''That's going to be a big challenge, for Robert to do that.''
That would represent quite an achievement. Punter scored 22.2 points per game last season - more than double his 2014-15 average of 10.3 - to rank second in the Southeastern Conference and 12th among all Division I players.
Hubbs would love to make a similar leap.
''This is my last go-around,'' Hubbs said. ''I'll probably never have this opportunity again. I'm going out doing what I have to do, getting these young guys better, being serious each and every day in the weight room, the classroom. I'm just trying to do the right things.''
Hubbs' teammates say he's taking more shots in the gym and doing more work in the weight room as he attempts to improve his game and raise his stock with potential pro scouts.
''In the past, he hadn't been working like he's working now,'' junior guard Detrick Mostella said. ''His game is just maturing as he's getting older and older. He's coming into his senior year. He says he wants to play in the league. Coach told him the ways to do it, and he's been doing it. ... His work ethic just changed.''
Hubbs has endured an up-and-down career.
He played 12 games as a freshman before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last December and missed four games because of injury.
Barnes started Hubbs in only 16 of Tennessee's 30 games last season and didn't hesitate to call him out to the media on a number of occasions last season. Barnes acknowledged late last season that Hubbs was a ''frustrating kid to coach'' but also praised his talent and added that ''before he's done here, I'm going to figure him out.''
Hubbs believes he and his coach have a better understanding now.
''We're both in the right lane now,'' Hubbs said. ''It feels good. He knows what I'm good at. I know what I'm good at. We're just going to try to get this thing rolling this year.''