Skylar McBee goes from humble start to Senior Day

From walk-on to third all-time in games played

Adam greene/special to the news sentinel
Tennessee guard Skylar McBee stands next to his father Doug as his high school jersey is retired Saturday night at Grainger High School.

Adam greene/special to the news sentinel Tennessee guard Skylar McBee stands next to his father Doug as his high school jersey is retired Saturday night at Grainger High School.

Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall started as suite mates

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Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel
Tennessee senior Skylar McBee poses for a photo Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Photo by Wade Payne, copyright © 2013

Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel Tennessee senior Skylar McBee poses for a photo Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Hanging a right at the one stop light in the city of Rutledge, about 45 minutes northeast of Knoxville, Route 91 winds into the farmland of Grainger County. Five minutes up the road, a thick, white signpost lists off the mileage to a sequence of churches. A right at the sign snakes down to a T in the road, where bare trees let sunlight bounce off a chattering creek bed.

Turning left at the T, a hill climbs to a gathering spot. The sign reads: Jessies Market. There are four walls, one grill and a fresh pot of coffee. At Jessies, everyone is greeted by their first name and the homemade chili served in a Styrofoam bowl is criminally underpriced.

As a kid, Skylar McBee loved the breakfast at Jessies. The food was good. The get-together was better. Old-timers — the retired farmers and those dusty souls still on the grind — would sit and do what old-timers do: Tell stories, lie and laugh.

Leaving the restaurant one day, kicking up the gravel out front, 10-year-old Skylar looked up at his father and said, “Dad, I know what I want to do when I grow up.”

“Well what’s that, Skylar?” Doug McBee asked.

“I want to do what they do.”

Things didn’t exactly turn out that way. Maybe one day. But not today.

Skylar McBee will be greeted by a spotlight today.

After four years, 127 games played, 590 points and various mustaches, the Tennessee guard is waving goodbye to Thompson-Boling Arena. Senior Day brings Missouri (22-8, 11-6 SEC) to Knoxville and it’s no small affair. Tennessee (18-11, 10-7) is flirting with an NCAA tournament bid and the crowd is expected to spill over the brim of Thompson-Boling’s 21,678 seats.

The potential exists for a storybook ending to a career seemingly filled with tall tales.

McBee’s legacy starts with a wide-eyed walk-on arriving in Knoxville after spurning 12 or so Division I scholarships. Many thought he was crazy. Maybe he was. Whichever the case, he and his syrupy drawl traveled 35 miles down Rutledge Pike, promised a spot on the roster by former coach Bruce Pearl.

Four years later, McBee is finishing his third scholarship season. He’s played in one less game than guys named Chris Lofton and Allan Houston.

“It’s been a dream come true — his dream come true,” Doug McBee said, sitting in an athletic department office at Grainger County High School, where he works and coaches basketball and where McBee’s No. 4 hangs as the only retired jersey in the school gym. His 2,362 career points is second to the only other Division I basketball player to ever emerge from the town, former UT All-American A.W. Davis, “The Rutledge Rifle”.

McBee and his hometown are intertwined, but Rutledge is akin to any tiny Tennessee town. Greenback, LaFollette, Oliver Springs, Cosby. Pick one. McBee says he came to UT “naive and trusting,” because in Rutledge, “Everyone, for the most part, is going to do the right thing by you.”

Despite being one of the few Vols actually from East Tennessee, Doug McBee thinks his son has always enjoyed being seen as an ironic outsider. With that drawl in tow, he happily plays into the character, turning perception into reality. Last season’s mustache grew into this season’s goatee. Now McBee resembles an orange-clad Civil War reenactor.

When Jordan McRae, the Vols’ leading scorer who grew up just south of Savannah near the Georgia coastline, plopped down next to McBee on Thursday, he incidentally summed it all up. Looking over as McBee was asked, “Do you feel like you have to fight to be taken seriously?” McRae chimed in, “Pssh, with this look? Uh, yes.”

Eye-rolling back toward the question, McBee’s twang deemed McRae a “jokester.”

Never being anything else than who he is, McBee takes pride being a player that a lot of Tennesseans can “relate to and that looks, talks, thinks and acts like them.”

Which all relates back to why his career as a whole is a four-year Norman Rockwell painting.

Remember Jan. 10, 2010? No. 1 Kansas comes to Thompson-Boling Arena to face a UT team decimated by four high-profile suspensions. Thirty-six seconds remain. The Vols clinging to the unlikeliest three-point lead. An expiring shot clock approaching. Then, this happened

“Here he is a walk-on, who would even think he’d play in that game and that they’d actually throw him the ball in that situation,” Doug McBee remembered, now on the edge of his seat, arms flying, acting out the action. “Then, who would think he’d even get a shot off, let alone make it? A walk-on freshman? What are the odds of that? It was something out of a dream.”

The win over Kansas is obviously Doug McBee’s favorite in his son’s four years and he’s been to all of them — home and away. Sue McBee, mother hen, has missed just a handful of games, due only to working on mission trips in Haiti, a family hobby. In high school, Skylar got his hands dirty in Belize, Haiti, Dominican Republic and a South Dakota Indian reservation.

Those trips only contributed to a work ethic UT coach Cuonzo Martin raves about.

It’s the reason McBee plays 25.1 minutes per game despite only averaging 5.6 points.

It’s the reason he emerged from a town of 1,277 people to be a Division I player.

It’s the reason he proved a lot of people wrong.

“You know, people take this game so seriously,” he said. “And a lot of that is because it’s about money and guys trying to make it to the next level, trying to support their families. But at the end of the day, especially for me, it’s a game. That’s what it’s always going to be. I have fun with it.”

Fun that he hopes continues into the NCAA tournament. It would certainly fit the script.

Dad isn’t quite ready for today. He’s attended 134 straight Tennessee basketball games. He’s watched, coached and cheered Skylar, the youngest of his three children, for 22 years. Hedging the topic, Doug McBee said, “I just don’t know what this (Senior Day) is going to be like.”

Then, with a quick wince, he added, “But I do know I’m going to miss it.”

So will Skylar McBee, but he’s not going anywhere. He plans to stay local and “continue to play on some level, probably nothing serious or very competitive.” A career playing overseas won’t be pursued. He’ll take a job in the real world, maybe even shave.

Then, down the road, who knows?

“There comes a time when you can’t play anymore or it’s not in you to play anymore,” Skylar concluded. “I think I’ve reached that point. It’s time to start a new chapter in life. I’ve put it my time.”

Plenty of stories waiting to be told at Jessies.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 34

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor always said he got to live the dream we all had as kids shooting hoops in our driveways. Witch Doctor say he is a hometown hero like Bill Justus was from another small town in East Tennessee. Witch Doctor say good for him
Bones never lie.

Doves writes:

The Kansas game still remains for me the greatest Tennessee basketball game of all time. Taking on the number one team in the nation with only four scholarship players plus some walk-ons...and winning.

Skylar turning down multiple Division I scholarship offers to walk on at UT, and conducting himself with class while here, along with his on-the-court accomplishments, helps make him an endearing and enduring figure in Vol Sports history.

Well done, Skylar, and thanks.

Ichabod writes:

Did us proud. How about another 30-34 minutes a game, for say, 6 or 7 more games? How about a streaky 3 point man getting hot at the right time?
Kid from Rutledge has made us proud, and even on the 'off' games no one has ever doubted his guts or desire.
I doubt they'll be another like this kid for a while, and we are lucky to have had him......
THANK YOU SKYLAR

Axemanagain writes:

I remember seeing McBee play in a local AAU tourney back when he was in high school and he was lighting it up. He's got a lot of heart and you gotta love that kinda player but it should serve as a reality check for everybody who goes on and on about how some kid at the county high is the next Jordan, only not 6'6" and a world class athlete.

miatatom writes:

I hope he has a great game today. We'll miss you Skylar.

TNVol71 writes:

in response to miatatom:

I hope he has a great game today. We'll miss you Skylar.

Totally agree. It would be great if Skylar could go out with the type of game the person he is most compared to, Pete Maravich, had in his hayday. The oft-announced "McBee for Three" will be one of those phrases long remembered by UT basketball fans. Let's hope he has 6 or 7 more games this year where Bob and Bert can make that announcement. Thanks, Skylar. GBO!!!

Giverny writes:

A good story, well told...thank you

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Find a place for him on staff and "train him up in the way he should go" VFL

GerryOP writes:

A job well done... Thanks Skylar!

SevenT writes:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

Vols4Ever writes:

in response to SevenT:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

Just saying your defeat at Georgia put you in the coffin and Gators winning on your home court on Senior Day nails it shut. Wish you would climb in and go to the ever-after.

GhostofRobertNeyland writes:

The 3 he made last year against Ole Miss to send the game into overtime was one of his greatest shots. Forgotten because we lost, kinda of like Mose Phillips TD run against South Carolina in '92

iowavol writes:

In addition to the Kansas game, the most memorable play for me was last year. I can't remember who it was we were playing, but we were supposed to lose. Coach Martin and his style were on the hot seat. We were starting to turn it around and the team was playing better defense. McBee went after a 50-50 ball. Both he and the other guy got there about the same time. McBee was much smaller. A wrestling match ensued and McBee wouldn't let go of the ball. He came out of the dust-up with the ball and his hair flying and players moving in to separate them. Martin called a time out and looked over at McBee like a proud poppa. That was the toughness he wanted to see and think McBee has embodied that toughness every since.

Good luck today Skylar - leave it all on the floor.

secten#238516 writes:

All true vol basketball fans remember that kansas win! Skylar was awesome! I love it when he is on and lighting up the 3's! Let today be one of those days Skylar! GO VOLS!

bigdisbig writes:

Good article on a quality young man. I have been critical of Skyler's defense in the past but his character and desire outweigh any shortcomings he may have. He has hustled in every game he played and played his heart out in every game as well. As much as I have criticized him I am proud to watch him wear orange. He has represented the university well and his family should be very proud of him. I know I am. Thanks Skyler for being who you are and I wish you the best in your future. Now, go out and light up the arena today!!

pete_hastings#206889 writes:

Brendan, great article - but the Vols are 10-7 in conference, just one game back of Missouri. If we win, the Vols jump into a complex tiebreak scenario and would hold the advantage over Missouri. We need Ole Miss to win and Bama to lose. Kentucky can lose again, just for my enjoyment of hearing Calipari in the post-game. That's my favorite double bye scenario (thanks RockyTopTalk).

mlynn1 writes:

in response to SevenT:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

You don't have even a small amount of class, just saying.

8ball writes:

in response to SevenT:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

calcheat needs to get a hair cut and shave. Just Saying

TNORANGEDOGDAD writes:

in response to SevenT:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

Do they even have a senior day at Kentucky.

voloffaith writes:

in response to SevenT:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

Nice job of chiming in with an uplifting(not) comment....I will give a lil credit since you didn't do your usual drivel...

On topic, glad to have had you in the Orange & White Sir McBee!!! Hit 4 or 5 today and take down the tigers!

laraccoon writes:

in response to iowavol:

In addition to the Kansas game, the most memorable play for me was last year. I can't remember who it was we were playing, but we were supposed to lose. Coach Martin and his style were on the hot seat. We were starting to turn it around and the team was playing better defense. McBee went after a 50-50 ball. Both he and the other guy got there about the same time. McBee was much smaller. A wrestling match ensued and McBee wouldn't let go of the ball. He came out of the dust-up with the ball and his hair flying and players moving in to separate them. Martin called a time out and looked over at McBee like a proud poppa. That was the toughness he wanted to see and think McBee has embodied that toughness every since.

Good luck today Skylar - leave it all on the floor.

i remember that play , Mcbee was slinging that other guy around like a rag doll .

HtownVol writes:

I have been critical of Skylars defense but he is a good kid and his mom is the nicest person (along with joshs' mom) ever.
At the A&M game I talked to Skylars mom about Skylars path to UT. I thought when he was Freshmen that the word was the only school to offer him was Santa Clara (D1) but Skylars mom ( a nursing teacher at a school near knoxville) told me that he had a few D1 offers most notably from Wake Forest. I did not know that. But she said he turned that down to walk on at UT. She said it was something that she and her husband never knew he wanted to do but Skylar said he knew in his heart that UT was best for him.
I couldnt disagree. Not to belittle it but the KU game was and will always be the highlight of Skylars athletic career and all of us only wish we could have anything close to an accomplishment like that. Skylar played a major role in knocking the best team in the country and he hit perhaps the mostmemorable 3 pointer in UT history.

We can only wih that UT had more kids that bled orange like Skylar does.

Thank you Skylar McBee
GO VOLS

SewaneeVolFan writes:

As a short, slow white guy whose only basketball skill was shooting, I've loved the whole Skyler McBee story from the beginning to the end.

People have picked on him this year for not scoring as well as at other times, but I love it that he still makes himself an asset to his team with his hard work on defense and on being a good teammate.

When Bruce Pearl inexplicably used to use Skyler as a whipping boy and start screaming at him on the bench and it didn't break his poise or his spirit or desire, I knew that this was a guy who had every intangible you could want to make a team bigger than the sum of its parts.

Not too terribly surprising that his dad is obviously very proud of him.

usafvol writes:

in response to TNORANGEDOGDAD:

Do they even have a senior day at Kentucky.

Good one! That actually made me laugh..

Basketvol writes:

Light it up today, Skylar! Thanks for being a Vol.

dlobh writes:

Thank you, Skylar, from all of us small town East TN folks. We have rooted for you from the start and wish you the best both in the rest of your UT b'ball career (may it be quite a few more games with quite a few more 3's) and in your life after graduation. God bless and GBO!

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

This is a well written piece.

bUTch_please writes:

Thanks Skylar. Just goes to prove, if the Volunteer heart is big enough, nothing can stop it. You are a chapter in Volunteer lore.

Zo VOLS!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

We're on TV!!!! ESPdarN is not blacked out on-line!!! I'm a grateful person.

tovolny writes:

Way to go Skylar...you did it man.

And, Brendan F. Quinn, you did a FANtastic job with this. It has been a while since I shed a tear reading a govolsxtra item. Great job!!!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SevenT:

I wonder if Sonny Bono aky Skeeter Mcbee will get a haircut and shave that scraggly stash prior to Senior Day.

Just Saying

I always trust you to come on any positive article about the Vols with some tastelessly inane remark. Thanks for not letting me down, dirtbag jerk.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to GhostofRobertNeyland:

The 3 he made last year against Ole Miss to send the game into overtime was one of his greatest shots. Forgotten because we lost, kinda of like Mose Phillips TD run against South Carolina in '92

I was visiting a friend in Columbia and happened to be in the stands to see that run by Phillips. I think he shrugged off tackle attempts by every SC defender on that run. One of the guttiest runs I think I have ever seen.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SewaneeVolFan:

As a short, slow white guy whose only basketball skill was shooting, I've loved the whole Skyler McBee story from the beginning to the end.

People have picked on him this year for not scoring as well as at other times, but I love it that he still makes himself an asset to his team with his hard work on defense and on being a good teammate.

When Bruce Pearl inexplicably used to use Skyler as a whipping boy and start screaming at him on the bench and it didn't break his poise or his spirit or desire, I knew that this was a guy who had every intangible you could want to make a team bigger than the sum of its parts.

Not too terribly surprising that his dad is obviously very proud of him.

One thing that nobody could ever say about Skylar was that he let his offense dictate his effort in the other phases of the game. Even when he wasn't hitting, he was in there battling, scratching, and clawing. Even when he was getting beat on defense, it wasn't for lack of trying. If everybody on that squad got as much out of their talent as Sklar did, the Vols would be world-beaters. Good luck in the future, Skylar, and thanks for the memories! Now keep it up for about a half-dozen or so more games!

rockytop321 writes:

Probably my favorite UT athlete of all time. He defines VFL, and comes from the best family imaginable. Great artcle, best kns writer in decades.

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