The Evolution Of Tennessee’s Skylar McBee

By: 09.17.12
Skylar McBee

Skylar McBee (photo. Tennessee Athletics)

While his freshman year featured many highs both individually and for the team, McBee’s sophomore year was a bit tougher. He still played about the same amount of time per game, and was even awarded a scholarship, but there was a black cloud surrounding the program and head coach Bruce Pearl’s status after an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations.

The team was up-and-down, winning the preseason NIT but then being mired with inconsistency the rest of the way. Their season mercilessly ended with a 30-point loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAAs.

After the season, Pearl and his staff were let go and Cuonzo Martin was hired. The new head coach made an immediate impression on McBee.

“I think the first time me and Coach Martin sat down, he talked about his expectations as far as on the court for things he was looking for me to do, but also things off the court as far as doing the right things and really representing this program the right way,” he recalls. “He’s a really genuine guy so when he is sitting down with you and talking with you, you can see that he really cares about you, so it was a really easy transition going into that.”

While Martin makes it a point of emphasis to be a model citizen, he never needed to worry about that with McBee.

Part of the reason McBee is so beloved in Knoxville is because he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and doesn’t hold back from being a public persona. He participated in his hometown’s annual tomato festival and posted the video on YouTube, then grew out his infamous “McStache,” an ode to the mustache his father sported back in the ’70s. He is not one of those guys who thinks he is too cool for things. He is just Skylar. And people like him for that.

“Part of college is having a good time and joking around, and those are two things I really enjoy,” he says. “The tomato festival is something I try to be a part of every year, it is a special thing in my hometown and it is a great chance to see everybody from back home that I may not get to see during the season. It is really good for me to be a part of that and people from my hometown who got to see that video thought it was funny and it made them laugh.

“The mustache came about when I looked at some old pictures of my dad and he used to have a mustache back in the day in the ’70s and ’80s and I thought, ‘I could probably grow a pretty decent one.’ So I just let it grow and it ended up getting a lot of attention but I liked it. It was something that was funny and people got a good laugh out of it and I just kept it, and I still have it to this day.”

This honesty and willingness to laugh at himself, along with his distinct Tennessee accent, has won McBee the hearts of many fans.

But this past season, he also became known for more than just his personality and his shot against Kansas.

With Tennessee losing a lot of talent from the 2010-11 season, including Hopson, Harris, Melvin and Williams, McBee was one of the more experienced players returning. He started the season coming off the bench, but towards the end of the year, he became the team’s starting shooting guard and started the team’s last 12 games as they fought to make the NCAA Tournament.

He brought his three-point shooting into the game, but his role evolved from the “white guy who can shoot” into a more complete player. While three-point shooting will always be his trademark, McBee expanded his game to other areas (most notably defensively and as a point guard leader).

Despite not being the strongest or the fastest player on the floor, few fight as hard off screens or close out faster than McBee does. Martin saw that and tasked him with guarding some of the SEC’s premier scorers last season such as Doron Lamb, John Jenkins and Kenny Boynton, and kept them in check for spurts. He also played point guard at times and while it is not his natural position, he did it because he was asked to. That’s what makes McBee unique. He knows everything he has is a privilege and an unbelievable opportunity, and he takes nothing for granted and wants nothing given to him.

“Personally, my expectations are to do whatever I need to do to help the team win and take whatever role that may be to help us win basketball games,” he says of his expectations for this season. “Whether that is starting or sitting on the bench being a cheerleader, cheering on the other guys, I’m willing to do whatever I need to do for this team to win.”

When most guys say they are willing to sit on the bench and cheer on their teammates, it will be obvious they are not being genuine. In fact, when most starters at any level of basketball are asked about their individual expectations for the coming season, they will likely talk about expanding their role or doing whatever it takes ON the court to help their team win. They will never mention sitting on the bench being a cheerleader.

When McBee says it, you believe him.

You really believe the individual stats don’t matter and that if he didn’t play a single minute all season this year and Tennessee won the NCAA title, he’d be just as happy as if he started every game. He loves the experience. That is what is most important to him about playing at Tennessee, and that’s why he went from a walk-on to a scholarship player to the starting guard – he cares so much about doing what is best for the team.

“I would sum it up as a great opportunity and a huge chapter in my life that I thank God every day for,” he says of his experience at Tennessee. It’s a great experience to play at a school where I’ve always dreamed of playing and to play with the guys I have and also where it is close enough to my family that they can come watch me and where I am close enough to them that I can see them. It’s just been amazing.”

What do you think?

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