New RTI contributor Adam McCracken is the author of this open letter to Tennessee senior Admiral Schofield
Though I am writing this letter sooner than both of us wanted, it is still long overdue. As I turned off the television last night, I was found searching for the right words to say. Regardless of how the season ended, it left me with an emptiness. Yes, I would have loved a trip to Minneapolis, but the empty feeling came from something very different. As I watched the tears, the hugs, and emotions rise, it became clear…the heart and soul of Tennessee basketball was walking off the court for the final time as a Volunteer.
So with that, I say thank you.
Thank you for having parents who raised you in such a way that led you to become the leader we never deserved. Thank you for being born in St. Mary’s hospital in England, and not choosing to be in the royal family after Prince William and Prince Harry were born there. Thank you for having a mother who helped raise you into a fine human being, despite countless moves and life changes. Thank you for having a father that taught you to have a work ethic that is unparalleled. Thank you for having an older brother who taught you how to win after his 2014 Super Bowl XLVII championship run with the Seattle Seahawks. Thank you for dropping 23 points and 18 rebounds in your final high school game, visiting the University of Tennessee, and committing there just two days later.
Thank you for becoming a Volunteer.
Your four years at the University of Tennessee were a whirlwind. You signed in November of 2014, falling in love with the aggressive recruiting of Donnie Tyndall. You were only a three-star player, but Tyndall saw more. You believed in him, and you chose your college path. But just as you were nearing the end of your high school career, you had to watch the coach that gave you that shot leave. After an NCAA investigation, your new coach was fired. You were left without a coach. Who would take over now, and how would this affect your goals? Would the new coach believe in you like Tyndall did?
After a quick hire of Rick Barnes, you decided to stick around. You enrolled in June of 2015 and never looked back. After your first two seasons that led to an accumulation of 35 losses in 66 games, you never gave up. Thank you for never quitting.
Thank you for so many moments that defined your career. Thank you for allowing Coach Barnes and staff to develop you into a dominating and physical wing. Thank you for spending countless hours in the weight room. You were named SEC Freshman of the Week on January 11th, with 16.5 points and 7.0 rebounds vs. Florida and Texas A&M. You blew up vs. Auburn, recording 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 made three-pointers, all career-highs to that point. Thank you for providing a spark off the bench your sophomore season. You averaged 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds, but your season was filled with highlights. From your team-high 18 points and 7 rebounds in a big win vs. Auburn, to your 15 points and 7 rebounds off the bench in an upset win vs. Kentucky, and your first double-double at Florida. Coach Barnes called that your “best game (to date) as a Tennessee Volunteer.”
You were only getting your feet wet, but all of Vol nation could see the potential.
Then came your junior and senior seasons. You started to log major minutes, and it was definitely not a disappointment. This is when your potential was reached, and you continued to show why you were so underrated. You averaged 13.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and you made 64 three-pointers your junior season, en-route to a second-team All-SEC selection. You were one of three Vols to make 50 three-pointers, you scored more points (486) your junior season than your first two combined, and you averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds in the SEC Tournament. You led the Vols to big wins over Florida, (16-7-3), Ole Miss (25 points), and your fast-break dunk in the final seconds to crush the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp will never be forgotten, as well as that 20 point, 9 rebound game to beat No. 17 Kentucky in Knoxville.
Then came your senior season. You averaged 16.2 points and led the team in three-pointers. You were named to the All-SEC team, and you were added to the John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year watch list.
In my mind, your five most memorable moments happened this year.
The first came on December 9th, 2018. As the Vols went to face off vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, you started off slow. But true leaders persevere. You dropped an incredible 25 points in the second half, a career-high 6 three-pointers in the game, and your career-high 30 points led to an upset of the No. 1 team, and led to UT eventually becoming the No. 1 team in the land. Your second big highlight came after the new year, when you dropped a dagger three-pointer with only 44 seconds left vs. Florida, which led to one of the greatest photos of all-time: the Vols’ version of the Gator Chomp. Your third highlight came in the closing seconds against Ole Miss. In one of the most gutsy plays I have ever witnessed, you read the offensive player’s mind, stepped in, and took a charge with one second left to seal the win. The fourth moment(s) came vs. Kentucky. After losing to them the first time, you came back and provided a huge momentum swing in a baseline slam. Then, you provided the final dagger with a slam. The final moment was a mammoth dunk on Mississippi State in the SEC tournament. That will go down as one of (if not the greatest) dunks in Tennessee history.
A leader is defined as a “person who leads or commands a group”. Not only were you a leader on the court, but your vocal leadership and demeanor were shining through. As you progressed through college, you progressed as a leader. You never let anyone talk down on you and your teammates. Don’t for one second, think that Vol nation didn’t love with your Twitter game. too. You were never one to shy away from liking or calling someone out on Twitter.
After every win, you gave credit to those around you. After every loss, you stepped up to the plate and took responsibility. You saw the potential and talent in Grant Williams, and you allowed him to form one of the most dynamic duos this program has ever seen. The “Ernie Bernie Show” still remains in the heart of Vol nation, but you can definitely add “Peanut Butter and Jelly” to the mix now.
As I close, I want to say thank you for what you did in the final win of your career. Though you played well, you didn’t make your final impact on the court in that victory. It was that moment on the sidelines and in the huddle that made us proud. You sacrificed fame, exposure, and minutes for your teammate and fellow senior Kyle Alexander. You trusted him and felt that the match-up was better with him in. You knew that Iowa would attack you with you being in foul trouble. After winning, you were the first one out on the court. You were the first one to congratulate those five on the floor. You were the one that poured every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears into a basketball program that so desperately needed a saving. You were the one that thanked God after the wins, and thanked Him for more opportunities to improve after the losses. As they say in the U.S. Navy, “Fair winds and following seas.”
You will always be our leader. You will always be our heart and soul. You will always be our Jelly, and you will always, always, be our Admiral.