McBee chases his dream

He grew up wanting to play basketball for Tennessee. Now he's taking his best shot ... a 3-point shot, to be precise.

The Vols ranked dead last among the 12 SEC teams in 3-point shooting last season, and long-range bombing happens to be Skylar McBee's greatest attribute. Thus, he could find a role with the Big Orange this season and, in the process, rise from walk-on to scholarship player.

"I hope so," he said recently. "That's what the goal is. If I can do things to help the program, maybe eventually I can earn that."

McBee grew up in Rutledge, perhaps 30 minutes from the UT campus. He attended his first Vol basketball game at age 7 and has been hooked ever since.

Although he averaged 24 points per game and shot 39.4 percent from 3 as a senior at Grainger County High School last winter, McBee was not a hot property on the recruiting circuit. Declining scholarship offers from Santa Clara and Marshall, he elected to walk on with the Vols.

"They're both great schools," McBee said, "but I kind of wanted to take a chance, come to Tennessee and see what I could do here."

Most of the Vols' scholarship players can outrun and outjump McBee but none has been able to outwork him. His effort in the offseason was off the charts.

"Sklyar has already become our hardest worker," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's a hard thing to say - that he's our hardest worker, instead of one of our hardest workers. But when you judge him over a couple of months and the summer time, I don't know that anyone's working harder than Skylar McBee."

McBee also has impressed Tennessee's coach with his shooting range.

"He's an outstanding shooter who has been able to make shots in some pressure situations," Pearl conceded.

Given how lightly he was recruited, McBee is viewed by some observers as a longshot to contribute at Tennessee. Pearl begs to differ.

"Skylar McBee belongs here," the coach said. "There was a lot of discussion about whether or not he was a high mid-major or low-high major prospect when he came to Tennessee. He may have been there coming out of high school but, because of the intangibles, the work ethic and his tremendous dimension offensively, I think he'll get there. We're very pleased with him."

Vol All-American Tyler Smith was impressed with McBee's play in the Rocky Top League last summer and again in preseason pickup games at UT's practice facility.

"Skylar is going to come in and open up a lot of things with his shooting ability," Smith said. "He can make tough shots, can make 3s. And he works hard."

Almost every conversation about McBee touches on his work ethic. He's proud of that, especially being dubbed the team's hardest worker by the head coach.

"Anything you go into you've got to work hard," he said. "Everybody on the team works hard but any time you get a compliment like that from Coach Pearl that's an honor."

McBee's deft shooting touch does not come naturally. It's a skill he acquired through countless hours of practice.

"Repetition and working on it," he said when asked the key to his sweet stroke. "To be good at anything, that's what you've got to do. There's no substitute for hard work."

There's no substitute for a good attitude, either, and McBee's attitude is first-rate.

"I set one big goal - to do anything I can do to help the program and hopefully make everybody else better," he said. "Anything I can do to help us win is what I'm going to do."

His teammates recognize this and appreciate it. Perhaps that's why they treat McBee with a level of respect not normally accorded walk-ons.

"They treat me just like everybody else," he said. "They're great guys, and they treat me like a teammate. They've been excellent. I couldn't ask for any better."


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