By Josh Ward | @Josh_Ward
Admiral Schofield had an important goal in mind when he returned for his senior season at Tennessee.
It’s not as if Schofield was really ever close to leaving school early. While he declared for the NBA Draft last year, the main purpose was to experience the draft process so he would be more prepared when he goes through it again this spring.
Schofield never wavered about returning to Knoxville because he knew he still had more to accomplish at Tennessee.
“I was always going to stay,” Schofield said before the season began. “I just wanted to finish out my four years and leave a legacy here and help build the program to where it needs to be.”
Tennessee’s program has been ranked among the nation’s best all season. The Vols returned to the top five of the polls after beating Kentucky on Saturday and held the No. 1 ranking for four straight weeks earlier in the season, the first time that’s happened in school history.
Schofield played a major role in helping Tennessee reach No. 1.
It was Schofield who scored 30 points in a win against then-No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 9. His three-point shot with 24 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in the win.
That final shot by Schofield led to an emotional hug in the locker room between him and head coach Rick Barnes.
“I just thought about how many hours (Schofield) has spent in the gym, and I have sat at that desk in the gym for four years now watching him work at it,” Barnes said following the win.
Asked on Monday about that game and the postgame exchange, Barnes again pointed to the amount of work Schofield has put in to improve his game.
“Everybody doesn’t work equally as hard as everybody else,” Barnes said. “There’s a depth chart with who works the hardest on the team, and our players know who the hardest working guy is down to the 15th and 16th guy. They can put them all in a slot. The one thing about Admiral is he has always been at the top of that list.”
Schofield’s work ethic has received a lot of attention. There’s the public praise from Barnes, which can be hard to come by at times, and the photo of his physical transformation from his freshman season to now.
Where did it come from, that work ethic that’s driven Schofield to this point?
“My father,” Schofield said before the season. “Just watching what my father did growing up and how hard he worked, getting up every day at 4:30 in the morning and getting home late at night. Still being consistent every day, I mean to this day he still does that.”
Schofield credited his father, Anthony Schofield, a retired Senior Chief with the U.S. Navy, and Barnes, as well as Tennessee assistant coach Rob Lanier and his former AAU coach Dickey Simpkins, for helping him mature and understand more about life on and off the court.
Schofield said that’s something he needed when he arrived at Tennessee in 2015.
“As I got older, I grew, I got more acclimated and just listened,” Schofield said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, is I listened. I just really listened to what was being said and I tried to be better, tried to be better every day, and it really helped me grow.”
Schofield will be honored at Thompson Boling-Arena along with seniors Kyle Alexander, Lucas Campbell and Brad Woodson before Tennessee plays Mississippi State on Tuesday night. A group that was part of a 19-loss team just three years ago will be celebrated for helping Tennessee grow into a national title contender.
What will fans remember about Schofield when they one day look back at his time in Knoxville?
Perhaps it will be his thunderous dunks in home wins against Kentucky and Florida. That three-pointer against Gonzaga could come to mind. They might think about a run to the Final Four – or even a national championship. The final chapter in Schofield’s time at Tennessee hasn’t been written after all.
More than likely, most fans will remember how Schofield helped lead the growth of Tennessee’s program; the effort the Vols played with in front of sellout crowds; Schofield running up and down the court as he proudly popped the “Tennessee” on the front of his jersey.
Who hit which shot and which game was played in what season can sometimes be difficult to remember. Those memories often blur together.
Fans will remember the way they felt watching this team play and the fun everyone had in the process. They could be talking about future success that was made possible by Schofield and his teammates.
That’s probably what Schofield hopes to leave behind at Tennessee. That would be quite a legacy.