During the last Pilot Rocky Top League matchup of the season July 1, Michael Beasley — the No. 2 pick in the 2008 NBA draft — calmly walked up to the scorer’s table and checked into the game. Schofield would be tasked with guarding him on both sides of the floor for most of the night — an NBA veteran taking on a guy who has never played a minute of college basketball and can’t legally buy alcohol.
Schofield wasn’t shaken.
The 6-6, 256-pound linebacker in a basketball forward’s disguise defended Beasley admirably and dropped 23 points of his own on 11 of 18 shooting in his team’s 138-134 win.
It was a nice litmus test for one of the four new guys on campus, who have been hardened not just by the players they went up against in the Rocky Top League this summer, but by the ones they will suit up with when the college basketball season starts in November.
“We definitely have to rough them up a little bit because it’s the SEC. This is a man’s league right here and you can tell that each and every night,” junior Robert Hubbs said. “We’re going to have to roughen them up, the new guys, and just show them the way and they’re just going to follow us.”
Hubbs, who is taking on an active leadership role now as he heads into his third season at Tennessee, has already seen a transformation begin with the incoming freshman, who played in their first real action against a plethora of talented Division I players in Knoxville’s most popular summer basketball league.
Shembari Phillips ended the season averaging 30.8 points per game to finish fifth overall in scoring in a league known for its offensive fireworks. There were times when he ran the point and looked like the most complete player on the court. Kyle Alexander showcased his tenacity around the rim and gave fans a taste of his raw talent just now beginning to be cultivated by Rick Barnes and his staff. Schofield muscled his way to points in the post and proved he can also score shooting midrange jumpers. Ray Kasongo brought the house down with more than one jaw-dropping dunk, proving he has the body to be a presence in the paint.
“Ray is very athletic. For Kyle, for him not playing for so long, he hasn’t been playing that much. He’s got raw talent. He’s done really well,” senior Derek Reese said.
“He’s really impressed me. He’s picking the game up real fast. I’m trying to help him out, talking to him ... His IQ is there, so they’ve really impressed me so far.”
There’s still plenty to learn as the summer slowly descends into fall. The freshmen on the team are still far off from playing their best basketball as the Vols prepare for Barnes’ first season at the helm without a true point guard and in need of early production from some of the new guys.
But what fans, players and coaches have seen so far has been encouraging, and the Tennessee vets on the team are doing what they can to make the mentality and physicality of their new teammates match theirs.
“They look real good,” Hubbs said. “They’re working very hard, putting in extra work like all of our guys are, so they’re very excited and we are too. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do next year to help us win.”