Grainger High School combo guard Skylar McBee is determined to prove his ability on the grander stages of college basketball, even if it means shunning guaranteed scholarship money elsewhere.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior decided Thursday to walk on as a freshman at the University of Tennessee and likely be on scholarship as a sophomore.
He met with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and assistant Steve Forbes on campus Thursday and committed to the Vols. He turned down recent offers from Santa Clara and Marshall to play inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
“If you’re a competitor and someone tells you you can’t do something, that makes you want to do it that much more,” he said. “I think I can play at that level.
“Hopefully, working hard enough, I’ll be able to prove that.”
McBee averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.6 steals this past season and was an all-state selection.
He was a target of Wake Forest from November until mid-April, when the Demon Deacons filled their final spot with junior college guard Konner Tucker.
McBee visited Santa Clara and Marshall in early-to-mid April. Santa Clara is coached by former Tennessee assistant Kerry Keating, who served on Buzz Peterson’s staff.
“(The visit to Santa Clara) was great. It really was,” said McBee. “But Tennessee is one of those things. It’s where I’ve always wanted to play. I grew up wanting to play at UT. Now that I have this opportunity, I couldn’t turn it down. It’s one of those things that if I did, I would have regretted it. I would’ve always wondered.”
Tennessee coaches talked to McBee about playing the 2-guard.
“I could become a combo (guard),” he said. “They want me to play more off the ball, though.
“But with walking on, it’s going to have to be earned. They’re giving me a shot. They didn’t say anything about (promising) playing time. But if you can come in and make open shots, you can find playing time. So, not really promises for playing time but for an opportunity.”
McBee will enroll in summer school at Tennessee in early June. He will play in the Rocky Top League again, he said.
“Right now, I can go to open gym, which I have been doing,” he said. “I had been playing pick-up games with them (at Pratt Pavilion).”
McBee could be a weapon from behind the arc if he finds the floor as a freshman. He made 39.5 percent of his 220 3-point shots last season. He also made 82.5 percent of his 280 foul shots.
He finished his high school career with 2,362 points.
“He’s a great 3-point shooter,” said Grainger coach Derrick Combs. “He shot 40 percent for us behind the line. Most were highly contested. He was well guarded for most of the year.
“If given the chance, he can help (Tennessee) in that aspect, to maybe loosen some defenses.”
McBee hasn’t reached his potential either, Combs added.
“He’s never had a preseason to get ready for a basketball season, because he’s always been on the football field. Once they get him there and get him in the weight program and some basketball specific training, I think he can blow up.
“I think they got a steal. I really do.”