Uncertain future awaits Mocs after down year
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- A season that began with deafening hype ended with little more than a whisper on Friday night in Asheville.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 76-70 loss to Georgia Southern in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament marked the final chapter of one of the worst season's in program history, and opened the door for an offseason filled with intrigue and uncertainty.
"It's definitely uncharted territory," said point guard Keegan Bell, one of four senior starters the Mocs will lose to graduation. "In the past when you lose it's always, 'Next year we're going to get them.' That's what gives you motivation and fire, but now to not come back to play college basketball and have that be your last game, this one is going to sting that much longer."
It's not just the final loss that will sting, but the whole final season for Bell's class.
A fifth senior, forward Chris Early, was booted from the team in early January after being indefinitely suspended for publishing critical comments about head coach John Shulman on his Twitter page.
Injuries sidelined forward Z Mason and Jahmal Burroughs in the heart of the SoCon schedule, playing a role in a seven-game losing streak that left the Mocs in last place in the North Division.
"We can't feel like we're losers," Bell said. "The fact that we kept fighting, I think a lot of people would have given up with what we've gone through."
Added fellow senior Omar Wattad: "It's going to be tough for awhile. It's sad, but we're all men and we need to learn to take hardships like a man."
UTC learned that tough lesson time and time again in an 11-21 season, which is the program's worst mark since it joined the Division I ranks more than three decades ago, though eleven of those losses came by eight points or less.
Chattanooga also went winless in 15 games away from McKenzie Arena, including three losses by two points or less.
"I told them before the game we've had a very unfair year. It's just little plays here and there," said head coach John Shulman. "(The seniors) didn't want to end like this. They played their hearts out. I'm supposed to be mad at them if they played their hearts out but they missed a shot here or there?
"Leave these guys alone. Blast me, but leave these guys alone."
Alone is how Shulman has spent his time since Friday night's loss. The coach took a solo trip to Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday to collect his thoughts after the roughest stretch of his eight-year tenure.
He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he expects to return to Chattanooga in the middle of the week to discuss his future with athletic director Rick Hart.
"We'll see if they want to keep my nametag on the door," Shulman said. "Before you want to talk recruiting and all that, we have to make some decisions."
Shulman still has two years remaining on his contract at $138,000 a year. His career record at UTC stands at 132-127 with a pair of NCAA Tournament trips in 2005 and 2009.
"I just hope for the best for him," said Wattad. "He's been great to me since I've been here. No matter where I'm playing overseas next year, I'll be keeping tabs on him and the program. I'm just hope the best for him moving forward."