Dream debut

He spent years imagining what it would be like to wear an orange uniform and play in a college game at Thompson-Boling Arena. Now he doesn't have to imagine anymore.

Freshman walk-on Skylar McBee got to live his dream Friday night - representing the Tennessee basketball program in a 117-79 exhibition drubbing of Div. II North Alabama.

Was it everything he expected?

"And more," McBee said, literally beaming. "I can't even describe it. It's one of the best feelings I've had in my life - putting on the orange and white, being a part of this team, contributing to a win and playing with this bunch of guys.

"We're like a family, and I love each and every one of these guys. I'd do anything in the world for 'em. It was a great feeling."

McBee came off the Tennessee bench four minutes into Friday's action and promptly drained his first shot - a 3-pointer from the left wing. Hitting his first attempt as a Vol was a daily fantasy as he was growing up in nearby Rutledge.

"I don't know that I could even count the number of times I thought about taking that first shot and hitting it," he said, slowly shaking his head. "It takes a little of the pressure off but then you're wanting to hit that next one. It's a feeling you keep wanting to have."

McBee wound up hitting 3 of 5 shots - all from behind the arc - en route to 12 points. He also contributed 2 rebounds and an assist in 21 productive minutes.

Thousands of boys who grow up in the shadow of the UT campus dream of playing for the Vols. McBee said fulfilling that dream is a thrill that is difficult to put into words.

"I'm just overjoyed," he said. "I don't know that I could even describe it. This shows that the hard work you put in and all of the practice time pays off."

McBee had quite a cheering section among the 10,000 or so fans who attended the exhibition opener. They chanted his name at times, cheered his baskets and urged him to shoot whenever he got the ball.

"Yeah, I heard them," he said, grinning softly. "We've got a great student body and great fans here. They show a lot of support. Hopefully, they'll keep doing that throughout the season."

At 6-2, McBee isn't as tall or as quick as Tennessee's other guards, which makes playing defense a little more challenging for him.

"To make up for that," he said, "I have to be in good defensive position."

Although he devotes a tremendous amount of focus and energy to playing defense, McBee insists that doesn't detract from his offense.

"No," he said. "Basketball's a two-sided game. You've got to play defense just like you play offense. You've got to concentrate just as much on defense as you do on offense. You just play both sides of the ball as hard as you can and see what happens."

So far, so good.


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