It took some time before Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander were ready to talk to the media in the locker room following the Vols’ NCAA Tournament loss to Purdue on Thursday night.
It stands to reason.
Schofield and Alexander—along with walk-ons Lucas Campbell and Brad Woodson—played their final collegiate games in Tennessee’s Sweet 16 loss at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
“Admiral has been with us since day one and Kyle Alexander and the two walk-ons,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “Go back four years ago and where we are today, there's a lot to be proud of, though right now it's hard to feel any of that, because you're always numb when this happens to you.”
The four seniors entered the program during a rough patch, as then-head coach Donnie Tyndall had just been fired and Barnes was tasked with bandaging the wound.
Insert an overweight Schofield and a clumsy Alexander—a pair that would turn themselves into successful players and change the mantra of Tennessee basketball.
“They did so much for this program,” junior guard Jordan Bone said. “Every single one of them helped every single one of us. Just a great group of people to be around…This program is a reflection of those guys. You can’t leave out Lucas and Brad. Those guys are special, man. They are the core of this special team that we had.”
Alexander came to Knoxville with just a couple years of basketball experience under his belt.
He leaves with 621 career points and 665 rebounds. Alexander averaged 7.3 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game this season.
“For the last four years, these guys have been my brothers, my family,” Alexander said. “I mean, everything we've went through. It's an incredible experience. I can't believe it's over, man. I just can't believe it's over.”
Despite trailing Purdue by 18 points on Friday, the Vols staged a furious rally, one that eventually result in a Tennessee lead.
The Boilermakers took advantage of a late Lamonte Turner foul call, however, and would control the overtime session.
“Just like I said, you know, I just wanted it for A.D., Kyle, Lucas and Brad, I wanted it for them,” junior guard Jordan Bowden said. “We came up short, but we had a helluva year, and I wouldn't do nothing to trade this team.”
Alexander, Schofield, Campbell and Woodson were a part of the Vols’ 15-19 record in Barnes’ first season at the helm. The next season they improved to 16-16.
Last year, the pieces came together and Tennessee went 26-9, claiming a share of the regular-season SEC Championship. The Vols advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The seniors’ work culminated with a 31-6 overall record. Tennessee doesn’t have any hardware to show for this season, but the Vols advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014 and just the eighth time in school history.
“There’s no doubt that it’s been a blessing to have these guys with us and the fact that they definitely left it better than they found it," Barnes said.
Schofield—Tennessee’s emotional leader—capped his career with a season in which he averaged 16.5 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game. He earned All-SEC First Team honors (Coaches) and was a member of the SEC All-Tournament Team.
“I think the biggest thing I can say is we left this program winning,” Schofield said. “Us four seniors, we left this program winning. That's the biggest thing. We really came from the bottom, and to make it to the Sweet 16 is a dream come true.”