KNOXVILLE -- During the summers -- when he pretty much has the Grainger High gymnasium to himself back home in Rutledge, Tenn. -- Skyler McBee shoots 3-pointers each morning until he makes 200 of them. Then he repeats the same drill each evening.
Every day. Come rain, come shine, or a certain former Tennessee basketball teammate's invitation to ride around in a car filled with alcohol, drugs and guns.
Or as Vols coach Bruce Pearl sagely noted early Sunday evening, "When other kids were doing everything else, you could see McBee in the gym practicing all night long."
Not three hours earlier, Pearl was about to wrap up the longest 10 days of his five-year UT career. Four of his players had been arrested New Year's Day on gun, drug and alcohol charges. By Friday he decided to boot the best of those, Tyler Smith, off the team. The fate of the remaining Four Flops remains in limbo.
Worse still, No.1 Kansas was about to roll into Thompson-Boling Arena to face a Big Orange bunch down to six scholarship players and three walk-ons, McBee foremost among those three.
We repeat, six scholarship players and three walk-ons against undefeated, top-ranked Kansas.
"I had a hard time sleeping last night," McBee said afterward.
But 39 seconds from the horn, the Vols clinging to a 3-point lead, McBee held the ball. Over his shoulder he spied the shot clock. It was down to three ticks. In his face was Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor, arguably the stickiest Jayhawk defender.
McBee decided a desperate time called for a desperate measure. He ball-faked Taylor, drifted to his left and fired away, 21,936 Big Orange loyalists rising to their feet as one to follow the shot's trajectory. The ball swished cleanly through. The Boling Alley shook with joy and relief. Kansas was undefeated no more, the Vols winning 76-68.
"A H-O-R-S-E shot," the player later grinned, referring to ageless playground game. "That one might practice a couple of times a day before practice."
Said losing coach Bill Self after keeping the Jayhawks inside their locker for nearly an hour after the game, "McBee made the big one when we were in a man (defense) as the shot clock expired. Tennessee deserved to win this game. They outplayed us, without question."
McBee's heroics and six huge points aside, no one outplayed the Jayhawks more than senior point guard Bobby Maze. Often maligned in the past, averaging just eight points and 23 minutes a game, Maze scored 16, handed out eight assists, pulled down seven rebounds and committed just two turnovers in 33 minutes.
That's 33 minutes against KU point guard Sherron Collins, who many believe is the best all-around quarterback in college hoops.
"Greatest win of my career, greatest moment of my life," said Maze afterward.
This was arguably the greatest of Pearl's 426 coaching victories to date. Against the No. 1 team in the land, Pearl took his undermanned squad and taught the nation how to disrupt the Jayhawks.
More important, addition by subtraction has noticeably improved his 12-2 Vols.
"It is pretty amazing what chemistry can do," said Pearl.
Added Self, "When you talk about all the stuff they have been through, I do not think Tennessee was a team until this past week. I do not think Kansas is a team yet."
The Vols, of course, are once more a team to reckon with in a Southeastern Conference that is beginning to look surprisingly strong. And if UT goes on to repeat as SEC East champs, McBee's shot will no doubt be revisited repeatedly.
But that's 16 SEC games from now, the Vols having yet to venture into league play. Sunday was for signing autographs, posing for pictures and enjoying the biggest moment of his young career with his 25 family members who somehow got tickets.
So, with his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the like all in the house, someone asked McBee what they thought of his big shot.
"My mother said, 'Be a good boy, most of all,'" he answered with a sheepish grin.
Too bad the Four Flops never got that message.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...