By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
I remember walking into Pratt Pavilion in the fall of 2016 before the start of Rick Barnes’ second season as Tennessee’s basketball coach. It was media day. Barnes and his players were dispersed and seated throughout the court, each awaiting the next stranger with a recorder in hand to take a seat and begin asking questions.
I approached a table towards the far corner of the court. A player was slumped in a chair sitting next to a team staffer. As the staff member noticed me walking in that direction he nudged the player, who suddenly straightened up and drew a wide smile across his face.
“Hi, I’m Joel Silverberg with WNML.”
“Hey, I’m Kyle. Nice to meet you.”
Long labeled a “project player” at Tennessee, Kyle Alexander was getting ready to begin his Sophomore season for the Volunteers. He spent much of the interview talking about the little things in his game that Barnes and his staff were working hard to develop. He discussed the need to be more aggressive around the rim and becoming a stronger rebounder.
He was well spoken and modest. He came across as quiet, but one could tell Alexander was determined and confident in the process of developing into the player Barnes believed he could be.
I opened things up a little bit towards the end by asking about Tennessee’s upcoming trip to the Maui Invitational in November.
“You excited to go to Hawaii?”
Alexander couldn’t hold back his smile. He expressed his excitement about the trip and said going to Hawaii was on his bucket list. I thanked him for his time and continued around the complex.
I started making my way past half court towards a table by the near sideline where a player was seated at his own table perked up and ready for another interview. He was enjoying the atmosphere. He saw me walking up to him and flashed an ear-to-ear grin and reached out his hand.
“What’s going on? I’m Admiral,” he said.
I started asking Admiral Schofield about his hometown of Zion, Illinois and if it’s proximity to Chicago had anything to do with his sports fandom. He talked about following the Bulls in the NBA growing up before starting to backtrack and admit his NFL allegiance had changed due to his brother O’Brien winning a Super Bowl with Seattle.
“I can’t really follow the Bears anymore,” he joked.
I asked him about potentially getting to celebrate a World Series, but he didn’t express as much excitement about the Cubs while they were still on their way to winning the organization’s first title in over a century.
“I’m actually a White Sox fan,” he said laughing and shaking his head. “Half of my family are Cubs fans and the other half are White Sox fans, but I guess I can pull for the Cubs just this once.”
Schofield talked about how he had been to several Blackhawks games growing up and how it was cool to see Chicago’s NHL team win three Stanley Cups in six years. After the interview I told him I was a fan of Chicago’s rival, the Nashville Predators.
He laughed at me.
It’s no secret that Schofield is a workhouse in the gym when it comes to fitness or getting shots up before practice. That was evident about him even when he was only a Sophomore. Schofield said he had been working hard with the team’s nutritionist to cut carbs out of his diet to get himself in better shape.
“It’s always been my dream to be a professional athlete,” he said. “I want to do what it takes to get to the next level.”
After just one season under Rick Barnes the jury was still out on how good Schofield and Alexander could be. Two and a half years later both have been mentioned in NBA Mock Drafts and have proved to be vital parts of Tennessee’s national success over the past two seasons.
As Juniors they both helped lead Tennessee to a share of the SEC regular season crown and an NCAA Tournament berth after being picked to finish 13th in the conference. The Vols fell in the second round to Final Four cinderella Loyola-Chicago with Alexander sidelined with an injury.
A year later the Vols have beaten a No. 1 ranked team, held the No. 1 ranking themselves and are closing in on potentially another conference championship with bigger goals in mind. Tuesday night Schofield and Alexander, along with fellow Seniors Brad Woodson and Lucas Campbell, will play their final game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
After the surprise SEC title last year all five starters returned to Tennessee. Grant Williams was the Co-SEC Player of the Year and could potentially claim the honor again this season. Jordan Bone has emerged as one of the best point guards in the country. Barnes is being mentioned in the National Coach of the Year conversation.
This has been a special group in Knoxville and for one last time it’ll take the floor at its home court in front of one of the most passionate fan bases in America three days after one of the biggest home games in program history.
Alexander and Schofield have had a lot to do with that success. Of course they’re not too concerned about the accolades the Vols could collect in March.
They’re preoccupied getting this season to extend into April.