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VOL. 42 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 7, 2018

Schofield's father almost missed once-in-a-lifetime moment

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Tennessee's Admiral Schofield, partially concealed by teammate Grant Williams, goes into the stands to celebrate with his father, Anthony Schofield (in orange cap), and other UT fans following the Vols' win against No. 1 Gonzaga.

-- Ap Photo/Darryl Webb

Anthony Schofield received a text message from his son, Admiral, last Thursday wanting to know if he would be at Tennessee’s big game against No. 1 Gonzaga the following Sunday in Phoenix.

Anthony and his wife, Dawn, have tried to be at every event their children have participated in over the years. They want them to know they are loved and supported.

But the end of the year is always a busy time at work for Anthony. He didn’t know if he could get away, even for just a few hours.

His wife wouldn’t be traveling to watch the Vols because their youngest son, General, was playing high school basketball games.

But once Admiral contacted him, Anthony knew he had to go. He immediately booked a flight from Illinois to Phoenix.

“If your kid reaches out to you, you need to answer that call,” says Anthony Schofield, who answered the call of the U.S. Navy several years ago and retired as senior chief. “I decided to go, but didn’t let anyone else know that I was coming.”

The trip resulted in a memory the father and son will cherish forever.

Admiral scored a career-high 30 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining, as No. 7 Tennessee rallied to beat No. 1 Gonzaga 76-73 in the Jerry Colangelo Classic.

In a game with a postseason feel that exceeded the hype, Admiral Schofield put the Vols on his back down the stretch. The senior guard scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half, including all 11 points during a closing run that secured the win, and drained a career-high six 3-pointers.

As soon as the buzzer sounded, Admiral climbed into the stands to find his father to give him a big hug and thank him for coming.

The poignant moment was captured by the ESPN cameras and broadcast to the entire nation.

“It was priceless,” Anthony Schofield adds. “I mean, you can’t make that up. It sent chills down my spine if you can imagine. It was incredible.”

The comeback win against Gonzaga capped a momentous day for Tennessee basketball.

Just as the Vols (7-1) were tipping off against the Zags, the No. 9 Lady Vols were finishing off an 88-82 victory vs. No. 12 Texas in Austin with another senior guard leading the way.

Meme Jackson, a Nashville native, scored a career-high 33 points to help the Lady Vols (8-0) remain undefeated.

It was perhaps fitting that Schofield and Jackson shared career milestones in back-to-back nationally-televised games. The two are known gym rats, spending hours and hours in Pratt Pavilion the last four years trying to improve their games.

Once Schofield returned to the locker room after the Gonzaga win, he shared yet another embrace with a man he has grown to love and respect like a father.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told the entire team all he could imagine while Schofield was shooting the game winner was all the time Schofield had spent in the gym before and after practice.

“How hard he’s worked in four years. I knew it was going in. I really did,” Barnes said. “I just knew it was going in.”

The Vols rose to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday, with their only loss coming against No. 1 Kansas.

Both the Vols and Lady Vols have more big games on the horizon.

The Vols travel to Memphis on Saturday to play the Tigers in a revival of the inter-state series. The game will be the fifth sellout for Memphis since moving to the FedEx Forum, and first since 2009.

The Lady Vols host No. 11 Stanford on Dec. 18 at Thompson-Boling Arena in a showdown of tradition-rich programs.

The Memphis game will be the first true road game for the Vols this season. But Barnes believes playing Gonzaga will prepare them for what to expect. Although the game was at a neutral site, the crowd in Phoenix was largely pro-Gonzaga.

“I have always appreciated what Memphis basketball is about. Penny Hardaway has done a great job creating the excitement,” Barnes says of the former Memphis star now in his first year as head coach. “I think he, along with all coaches, when you are in December you are still worrying about getting your team better. I do think our guys embrace being in an environment where there are a lot of people there."

Against Gonzaga, the Vols played the final 2½ minutes without reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, who fouled out.

Along with Schofield, junior guard Jordan Bowden was crucial down the stretch. The Knoxville native played strong defense on Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell and hit some clutch shots despite playing with a sprained ankle he suffered two days prior in practice.

“I thought he was really the biggest key in the game because when we were really struggling to shoot, score the ball and we missed some shots, he got aggressive,” Barnes says.

“He was the guy that got it going.”

Once their charter flight returned to Knoxville and they bussed back to campus Sunday night, the Vols were greeted by a throng of cheering students braving the wintry weather.

"I like to think our guys understand that we are just a small part of this university and people appreciate the fact that people care about what we are doing,” notes Barnes, who beat a No. 1 team for the first time in his 31-year coaching career.

“I know we all care about what they are doing. Our guys are in exams right now, but I know they appreciate the support."

Despite the excitement of the win, the Vols know they can’t grow complacent. They still have more to prove and loftier goals to reach.

"Honestly, in reality, it's a big statement. We are not going to act like it's not a big day," Admiral Schofield points out. "But for us, we know it's only December and we are not playing for championships in December. We are playing for championships in March."

Anthony Schofield took an early-morning flight out of Phoenix on Monday to return to work. He had to turn off cell phone to focus because he kept receiving calls and texts of congratulations.

Although he was thrilled to witness his son’s signature performance, he never envisioned becoming a part of the story with the post-game hug.

“I was watching him the entire time and saw he took off running and he was coming my way. I said, ‘Wow, can he even be doing this? Can he come up in the stands?’” he recalls. “It was incredible, but I was kind of embarrassed at the same time.”

The emotional spontaneity of sports is part of what makes it so great. Athletes reacting from the heart can produce unforgettable images.

But once the cameras turned off and the celebration ebbed, Anthony Schofield pulled his son aside for a brief conversation.

“I told him I appreciate that hug and I love you so much and it was awesome, but let’s not do that again unless it’s the NCAA championship,” he says with a laugh. “Let’s keep it simple for anything other than that right now.”

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