Pure shooter

You'll find everything you need on Vol hoops here at InsideTennessee. Sign in or subscribe now to read about a player with a special knack.

All this time Tennessee junior Skylar McBee fancied himself a basketball player. A strict interpretation of head coach Cuonzo Martin's definition suggests that may not be the case.

"There's only one guy on our team that you would call a shooter ... Skylar McBee," Martin said recently. "The other guys are basketball players. I made 3-point shots in college but I wasn't a shooter. I was a basketball player who was able to make some 3-point shots.

"I think that's something we need to understand: You have one guy that's a consistent shooter. That's his description since he's been playing. Other guys can make shots but they're really more all-around basketball players."

Although the remark could be viewed as a knock on McBee's overall skills, it is simply Martin's way of pinpointing McBee as the one pure shooter on Tennessee's roster ... the guy you count on in the clutch.

Saturday night's game with Georgia was a perfect example. With the Dawgs trailing 66-60 and forced to foul inside the final minute, Martin wanted the ball inbounded to McBee. Fouled with 34.4 seconds left, he coolly sank both free throws to bump the lead to 68-60.

When Georgia coach Mark Fox was assessed two technical fouls with 19 seconds left, Martin entrusted McBee with shooting the ensuing free throws. He responded by sinking three of the four to cap a 73-62 victory.

An even more dramatic example of Martin's faith in McBee's shooting occurred Jan. 21 against No. 13 Connecticut. With Tennessee leading 56-54 inside the final half-minute, Martin sent McBee onto the floor for the express purpose of taking the inbounds pass, getting fouled, then sealing the victory at the free-throw line.

Sure enough, McBee worked free near the baseline, collected the inbounds pass and was fouled. With 19 seconds left and a national TV audience watching, he calmly drained two free throws that proved decisive in a 60-57 Vol victory.

"Yeah, there's some pressure when making free throws is all you're in the game to do," McBee conceded afterward. "But you've got to block that out and concentrate on making the shots."

Obviously, he excels at blocking out pressure in late-game situations.

"That's what you have to do ... go to the line with confidence," he said. "You've been through this in practice so many times that you just go up there and let it fly."

A career 86.2-percent shooter from the free-throw line, McBee also is Tennessee's most consistent shooter from 3-point range. He's hitting 39.2 percent this season, a figure that would place him fourth in the SEC if he had enough treys to qualify for the league rankings.

Clearly, the 6-foot-3 junior can shoot with the conference's best. When told of Martin's characterization of him as a shooter on a team of "all-around basketball players," McBee laughed.

"I don't know exactly what that means," he said. "Coach Martin has a lot of different sayings. I'm glad he looks at me as a shooter, and hopefully that's what I'll be for our team, but we have other guys who can score the ball. Hopefully, in the offseason I'll be able to work to where I'll be able to get into the paint a little more and distribute."

Some fans view McBee as a one-trick pony whose shooting is the only weapon in his arsenal; Tennessee's head coach clearly does not. Otherwise, he would never have started McBee against Georgia at point guard, a position that requires ball-handling, passing and defensive skills.

McBee failed to record an assist in 20 minutes of court time Saturday night but that isn't terribly surprising, considering he had only a few days of practice at the point before playing the position.

"I worked on it quite a bit this week," he said. "As guards in this offense, we really know everybody else's spots, so it wasn't that bad of a transition."

Being a Rutledge native who grew up a Vol fan and turned down mid-major scholarship offers to walk on at Tennessee, McBee's willingness to try a new position is no surprise.

"I'm going to do whatever Coach Martin asks me to do," he said. "Anything I can do to get on the floor and help us win, that's what I'm here to do."

Given his affection for Tennessee basketball, McBee's first start after 86 relief appearances as a Vol was a special thrill.

Calling it "an awesome thing," he added: "Being from East Tennessee, I watched Tennessee basketball all my life, and I know what this program means to people. I know the tradition that's here, so it was really an honor to be in that starting five."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories