Tennessee basketball player Skylar McBee often arrives to the Vols’ basketball practice first and leaves last. He does not stop running until after the whistle blows and goes to the gym for extra practice whenever time allows.
McBee said he works harder than everyone in the present so that he can lead the Vols in the future.
“Just from where I come from, the things I’ve had to do, I have to work harder than everybody else in order to be able to play because a lot of the guys here are more talented,” McBee said. “It gives me a right to speak, maybe not this year because I’m a freshman and I’ve not been through it, but I think after this year, they’ll have a level of respect for me. I’ll have a voice and could maybe be a leader and get our team on the track to win.”
McBee said his work ethic comes from growing up on his family’s 500-acre dairy farm in Rutledge, Tenn., where he milks cows regularly, and though he said he prefers the simple life, McBee has enjoyed spending time in the “big city” of Knoxville this year.
“Best thing about Knoxville is that everybody is so convenient,” he said. “Things you need are right down the road. Where I live, we have one stop light, and everything is so far away. But at home, everything moves slower; it’s kind of relaxing.”
Teammates joke about McBee’s extremely thick Southern accent, coming from such a small town in East Tennessee.
“You can’t understand what he’s saying half the time,” Steven Pearl said. “We’ll be playing, and he’ll be trying to call out matchups, and you’ll have no idea what he’s saying because he’s speaking Tennessean. I love it.”
But do not let McBee’s country roots fool you. His athleticism on the court has impressed everyone this year. The freshman walk-on is now averaging over 14 minutes a game for Tennessee. His buzzer-beating, three-point shot against Kansas was paramount in the Vols’ victory over the Jayhawks. McBee admits that after making big plays early in the season, he feels the burden of meeting people’s expectations.
“It’s so much easier when you come in and no one thinks you can do it and you have that ‘I’ll show you’ mentality,” McBee said. “And I think it’s a little bit harder to keep it going when people believe that you can do it now. Once you’ve proven yourself, people expect it every time.”
McBee’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. UT coach Bruce Pearl said the team often relies on McBee to keep up the team’s energy on the court.
“He’s such a clutch defender,” Pearl said. “He works his butt off and has a lot of energy out there, and it’s very contagious. And his hard work just rubs off on the rest of the guys.”
After spending nearly a year with the Vols’ coaching staff and learning everything he can from his new teammates, McBee said he has gained the confidence he needs to continue UT’s winning ways.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is having confidence in your work ethic and in your game,” McBee said. “When we step out on the floor, we want to feel like we deserve to win because we work harder than everybody else and we put the time in and do whatever we have to do to win.”