Skylar's sky high

One recent high school grad knew he'd be taking a step up in competition by playing in the Rocky Top League this summer. Instead, he wound up taking two.

In addition to facing some of the finest college basketball players in East Tennessee, Skylar McBee got to test himself against an NBA player Monday night under sweltering conditions at Knoxville's Bearden High Gym. It was an experience he won't soon forget.

McBee, then a rising senior at Grainger County High School, proved his mettle against college competition last summer by finishing third among all players in the Rocky Top League with a 42.9 percentage from 3-point range. Going head to head with a professional like Golden State's C.J. Watson on Monday night, however, was a whole new level of challenge.

"C.J. Watson is a heck of a player," said McBee, a 6-2 combo guard who will be joining Tennessee's program this fall as an invited walk-on. "It's an honor to be out here with all of these guys who know how to play the game and have fun doing it."

No one knows how to play the game better than Watson, who was Tennessee's starting point guard from 2003-2006 before launching his pro career. He produced 31 points and perhaps a dozen assists Monday night for Ray's ESG, and made it look easy. McBee put on a show, as well, pumping in 20 points for The News-Sentinel in its 130-123 victory.

McBee came out smoking and scored 16 of his points in the first half. He finished the opening stanza with a flourish by sandwiching two 3-pointers around a driving 10-footer and a fall-away 15-footer.

After hitting a trey in the opening minutes of the second half, however, McBee would not make another basket the rest of the evening.

"I was about dead," he said, shaking his head. "Out here in this 125-degree heat it (fatigue) really gets on you. I'm going to have to get in better shape, I guess."

McBee, who says he shoots 500 jump shots per day, averaged 24 points per game and hit 39.5 percent from 3-point range for Grainger County High en route to all-state honors last winter. He then declined scholarship offers from Winthrop, Marshall and Santa Clara in order to walk on at Tennessee.

"I decided a long time ago that I wanted to play at Tennessee," he said. "As it happened, they didn't have a scholarship available. But I decided, 'You only live one time; I might as well take a chance since that's where I always wanted to play.'"

McBee said he's impressed by the "sense of pride" East Tennessee fans feel toward the Vol basketball program, adding: "Growing up and watching UT, that's all you want to be is a Vol."

Tennessee ranked dead last among the 12 SEC schools in 3-point success last season at just 31.5 percent, so a long-range bomber of McBee's skills conceivably could've turned several close losses into victories.

"You think about that," he said with a laugh, "but it's different when you get out there on the floor in front of 20,000 people."

How McBee handles the pressure of major-college basketball remains to be seen but he certainly handled the pressure of performing for the first time as a UT commitment on Monday night. Now that he's a bona-fide Vol, his every move was closely scrutinized by the Big Orange fans in attendance.

"There is some pressure there," he conceded, "but you've got to get out here and have fun with it. That (scrutiny) gives you a little bit more adrenalin and makes you want to play even harder."

McBee thoroughly enjoyed competing with future Vol teammates Scotty Hopson and Brian Williams, while competing against Steven Pearl and signee Kenny Hall.

"It's great," he said. "They're all great guys. I didn't know how it would be coming in as a freshman but they embrace you. They include you in everything and make you feel like you're one of them."

Solidifying the bond is the fact McBee plays pickup ball with the other Vols a couple of times per week at the Pratt Pavilion practice facility. Strange as it sounds, that's the fulfillment of his dream.

"I've thought about playing at UT for a long time, so this is a great opportunity, and I feel blessed," he said. "Now I'm just going out there, work hard and try to play."

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