Wiedmer: Admiral Schofield delivers one of the best Best of Preps Banquet efforts ever

Wiedmer: Admiral Schofield delivers one of the best Best of Preps Banquet efforts ever

June 11th, 2019 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Former University of Tennessee basketball player Admiral Schofield speaks during the Times Free Press Best of Preps awards banquet on June 11 at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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This newspaper's Best of Preps Banquet has had more than a few nationally known speakers over the years, ranging from tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams to the poster boy for Olympic gold medals in swimmer Michael Phelps, to Atlanta Braves Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Chipper Jones.

It may never have had anyone as naturally funny, genuine and insightful as Tuesday night's guest speaker, just-graduated Tennessee Volunteers basketball great Admiral Schofield.

There was Schofield talking about the time he first encountered Vols head coach Rick Barnes on campus and Barnes, looking at a 268-pound Schofield at the start of his freshman season asked, "You like steak, don't you?"

When Schofield answered yes, Barnes asked, "You like potatoes, too, don't you?"

Another yes from Schofield brought the following response from Barnes: "Well, you're not touching a basketball until you lose 30 pounds."

Said Schofield: "And I didn't. The first day I walked into the practice facility, I saw the student managers all running to put the basketballs in a closet. They had this big, black treadmill and I was on that thing every day for two months. I almost went to a Dick's Sporting Goods to buy a basketball so I could remember what it felt like.

"But I stopped eating cupcakes and I lost the weight. And I'm happy to say I'm at 235 now."

For anyone wondering how Schofield got his first name, it wasn't, as some have believed, because his father spent 24 years in the military.

"My dad was stationed in London, England, when I was born," Schofield recalled. "You know how we have The General Insurance over here. Well, over there they have The Admiral Insurance. While my dad was waiting for me to be born he heard an advertisement for The Admiral Insurance. That's how I got my name."

Schofield said anyone could also be forgiven for believing his father put him and his siblings through a tough childhood.

"Every Saturday morning we got dressed up in these blue jumpsuits and our dad would pull out these neon clipboards — I don't know why we couldn't have wooden ones — that had a list of chores for us. If you did them right, you got a check by them. If you did one of them wrong, well, he'd pull drawers out in your bedroom and dump them on the floor, take the sheets off the bed, he'd wreck the whole room.

"But we learned the importance of doing something right the first time. His message was: 'If you can't get one thing right, nothing is right.'"

Schofield's presence on the court made sure a lot of things went right for UT basketball, the Vols tying for the SEC regular-season title a year ago before being ranked No. 1 for four straight weeks this past winter.

But even with all that success, even with Schofield being told by the six NBA teams he's recently worked out for — Boston, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Golden State, Indiana and Utah — that he'll go anywhere from "No. 15 to 30 in the first round (of the draft on June 20)," he seems destined to be forced to find humor in frustrating circumstances.

"I just got a roommate while I'm living and working out in Chicago," he said. "Because we're represented by the same agency, it's Carsen Edwards (the Purdue guard whose two free throws forced overtime in the Vols' eventual Sweet 16 loss). The first time I saw him, I was like, 'Is this a joke or something?'"

Even the individual interviews with NBA teams have occasionally sounded like a joke.

Though he couldn't remember which team asked him this question, Schofield was asked by one franchise what he'd do if he was trapped in a car and handed a hammer.

"I told them I'd smash the windows and get out that way," he recalled.

The person asked Schofield why he wouldn't just unlock the door, since he was already inside the car.

Schofield replied, "You told me I was trapped, so I assumed the locks wouldn't work."

And you wonder why not every team drafts well.

But Schofield unlocked a lot of Tennessee pride at the Chattanooga Convention Center, leading more than a few folks to give him a standing ovation at the close of his time on stage.

Not that his was the only great turn at the banquet. If you want to know what makes 900 people turn out on a weeknight in June after school's out, give a listen to a young man touched by Guy Francis Award winner LaDarrius Price, who's done so much for underprivileged youth throughout the city.

Said this unnamed person on a video: "(Price) even takes us to church. It inspires me to finish school so that I can one day do what he's doing for our community."

Then there's Soddy-Daisy volleyball player Sierrah Lemons, who lost an eye at 3 years old but has become such an inspiration to her coaches and teammates that she won the Bobby Davis Award for heart and desire.

Said Lemons: "You can succeed in anything you want to do if you'll stick with it and not lose hope."

When Schofield initially visited the UT campus, there wasn't much hope for Vols basketball. The program was about to have its third coach in three years and there were concerns that Donnie Tyndal — the one-year blunder who had initially recruited Schofield — might have committed a multitude of NCAA wrongs.

Schofield saw something different, however.

"There was such a passion for football but a lack of passion for basketball," he said. "I thought we could win those fans over."

He and his teammates eventually did just that. Tuesday night in the Covention Center, all those standing and cheering for Schofield proved he's won them over for life.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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