When Admiral Schofield arrived in Knoxville for his freshman year at the University of Tennessee, he wasn’t exactly the big man on campus. That’s to be expected for a recruit rated as the 251st-best player in his class. He was, however, big—in the most literal sense of the word.
“When I first got to Tennessee, I weighed about 268. I was recruited to be a two (guard), but I was kinda big coming in at 268. No basketball players are really 268—until Zion came along,” Schofield says. Just seven current NBA players are listed at 268 pounds or heavier, yet here was a college freshman recruited to play guard coming in at that weight. First-year UT head coach Rick Barnes took one look at Schofield and issued a decree—you’re not touching a basketball until you lose 30 pounds.
“At first, I thought he was kidding—until I walked into the gym one day and all the managers like ran past me to go lock the balls in the closet. Then I realized, ‘OK, I’m really gonna be running instead (of practicing.)’ I really thought he was kidding but he was serious,” Schofield says. Many freshmen would lash out at such a strict demand, but Schofield embraced it. Instead of seeing the challenge as merely a pain in the butt, he viewed it as a way to earn trust from the hard-nosed Barnes.
“I wanted him to be able to trust me. Because I felt like that was a trust test. Giving me a challenge as tough as that, having to come in—sometimes as a team, we’d work out at 5:30 in the morning, (and) I’d have to come in at 4:30 in the morning and run two and a half miles before the team workout even happened. Then run a mile and a half before I went to class right after the workout. Then come back later on. Do those things every day six times a week,” Schofield says.
“It was a challenge, but at the same time, I wanted to prove that I deserve to be on the floor, I deserve to be in this program—because I wasn’t highly recruited. And you know, I just felt like everything I was put through my freshman year, tough workouts and different things like that, prepared me for this moment I’m in right now. Being tough and being able to play in tough games, it all translates.”
The team’s Woodway XL treadmill became a second home for Schofield, and he drastically cut down on the fried foods, sugar-laden juices and highly processed carbohydrates that plagued his diet in favor of more fish, water and vegetables. He was also diagnosed with sleep apnea and took the proper steps to reduce its effects.
Within a couple months, Schofield was down to 238 pounds. He’s remained at about that same weight ever since, albeit the balance of muscle-to-fat has continually increased. But what made Schofield’s stellar college career possible was that he didn’t take his foot off the gas once he graduated from Barnes’ “fat camp.” His focus quickly shifted from simply proving he belonged to becoming one of the coach’s all-time favorite players.
Schofield’s consistent hard work paid off with a vastly improved physique (Courtesy the University of Tennessee)
If you walked around UT’s basketball facilities at any point over the last four years, there’s a good chance you’d find Schofield working to get better. As his game improved, so did the program. From his freshman to his junior season, Schofield’s point and rebound averages jumped from 7.6 and 4.0 per game to 13.9 and 6.4, respectively, while Tennessee’s win total rocketed from 15 to 26. Last spring, Barnes told reporters that Schofield put in as much work as any player he’s ever been around.
Schofield’s final college season saw Tennessee win 31 games—tied for the most in the program’s 110-year history. He earned first-team All-SEC honors and was an honorable mention All-American after averaging 16.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 41.8% from deep. In December, Tennessee, then ranked seventh in the nation, took on No. 1-ranked Gonzaga. Schofield finished the game with 30 points—including the game-winning 3-pointer—to pull off the Volunteers’ biggest win of the Barnes’ era.
After the game, Barnes, who’s never been one to hyperbolize, told the team he knew the shot was going in. Why? Because he’d seen Schofield put in too much work to believe otherwise:
From “you’ve gotta lose 30 pounds before you can touch a basketball” to “I knew that shot was going in as soon as it left your hand”—they’re two flash-bulb moments that signify how a coach-player relationship can blossom over four years.
Now, Schofield has his sights set on the NBA. He’s one of the most unique prospects in this draft class, offering a rare blend of strength, agility, rebounding, 3-point shooting and defensive flexibility. Over the last couple months, his training itinerary has revolved largely around improving his off-the-dribble skills. He was not permitted to take more than three consecutive dribbles in Tennessee’s system, so developing a go-to dribble move and honing his off-the-dribble shooting have been top of mind. While Schofield’s not currently projected to be a top-10 pick, he’s eager to prove his worth one day at a time—just like he did at UT.
“To succeed in this league, you have to come in right away and play your role. You gotta be an all-star in your role. Right now, the league knows who’s gonna be their superstars. 78, 79 percent of the league are role players. The other 20 percent are superstars. Coming in understanding that I’m gonna be in that 80 percent until I prove otherwise, I have to come in and do that,” Schofield says.
“I’m not gonna come in and be the best pro in the league right away, but I wanna be on of the top rookies this year. I wanna be one of the best players in the coming years. That mindset, that work ethic, I think it will pay off. But I think the biggest thing too is coming right in, I’m mature. I know how to survive on my own. I know how to survive in the locker room. I know how to survive in the league, just because I’m a little bit older. It’s not to knock the younger guys, it’s just that comes with the age and the maturity, especially in the position I was being a leader and being on a winning team. You have to grow up, and grow up quick. So I just think I have a lot I can bring to a team.
“I feel like my best years of basketball are only ahead of me. I feel like the sky’s the limit for me. I think I can shock a lot of people with my work ethic and how much better I can get in a short time.”
Photo Credit: The Player’s Tribune