Tennessee freshman Scotty Hopson, a native of Hopkinsville, sounded eager to play in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
"It's a great feeling coming home," he said on Thursday. "My fans and my family will be there to support me. I'll try to put on a show."
One of those friends is UK freshman Darius Miller, who naturally doesn't figure to be all that supportive on Saturday. But other than these head-to-head competitions, Miller and Hopson have maintained an acquaintance that began as fellow Kentucky high school stars.
"I still talk to him every now and then," Miller said on Friday. The most recent conversation occurred about a week ago, Miller said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"We talk about how life is," Miller said. "How we're both going through the same thing."
Miller and Hopson share that difficult transition from highly decorated high school stars to complementary role players as college freshmen.
Miller, who led Mason County to the state championship last spring en route to being named Mr. Basketball, said he tries to follow the example of established stars such as Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson.
"I can step back and watch them and see how they do it," he said. "Hopefully that will help me in my future."
Hopson, who said he needed about 30 tickets for family and friends, also seeks out help to deal with basketball frustrations.
"Sometimes I have some letdowns and don't play my best," he said. "I have to keep my head up and try to finish off the season in a great way. I'm pretty sure I'll come back next year and lead my team."
Hopson, a McDonald's All-American for University Heights, is averaging 8.9 points. He's made 44.3 percent of his shots (37.6 percent from three-point range).
Hopson originally committed to Mississippi State, then re-opened his recruitment. UK got involved "fairly late," he said.
UK commanded "a lot of consideration," he said. "I wanted to come (to UK) at one point in time."
When asked why, an incredulous Hopson said, "I am from Kentucky, and I've always been a fan. The obvious reasons."
In a news conference prior to Gillispie's session with the media, UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell said he closely watches how each victory impacts his team's standing in the league and its post-season profile.
By contrast, Gillispie said he concentrates on getting his team to play better.
"Everybody needs to win games no matter where you are at this point of the season," he said. "I'm not smart enough to figure out what we need to happen. I don't waste time on that stuff."
UK players sounded well aware that the Kentucky-Tennessee winner will maintain at least a share of first place in the SEC Eastern Division.
"It should be a great game," Miller said, "because both teams are desperate for a win."
I got 'rithm'
When asked about his team's mood, Gillispie said, "I'm not into logarithms ... so I'm not sure about reading stars."
As reporters quietly took that in, the UK coach added, "What's that called? Logarithm is math, isn't it?"
Someone then helpfully supplied the right word: biorhythms.
"At least nobody else here knew (the right word) either," Gillispie said with a smile. "I'm not the only one. We're all a bit limited, aren't we?"
Tennessee, which lost at Ole Miss on Wednesday, hasn't dropped back-to-back SEC games since January of 2007. ... With UK's propensity to turn the ball over, fans should note that Tennessee's last three opponents have committed 61 turnovers. ... Gus Johnson and Dan Bonner will call the game for CBS.