CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Dontay Hampton is out and he's not coming back for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team.
The senior point guard's career is over after having surgery Thursday to repair a torn ACL, leaving the Mocs without their on-court leader and their emotional heart and soul.
With a month left in the season, UTC now needs a new leader to step up.
"I feel like there's more of a sense of urgency that I need to take my game to the next level for us to be successful," junior forward Zaccheus Mason said earlier this week. "I need to give this team more than I already have."
Head coach John Shulman agrees, though he knows it's a lot to ask.
Mason is already playing at a higher level the last two weeks, recording three double-doubles and averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds over the last four games.
The effort was enough to earn Mason a SoCon Player of the Week award two weeks ago, but it's yet to satisfy Shulman.
"I brought him up at our team meeting Monday. I told him he's the SoCon player of the week. He's had two straight double-doubles, and I'm sorry, but we need more," Shulman said. "You're averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds? I'm sorry, but we need 24 and 14."
Shulman has no concern about Mason being able to answer the challenge on the court. However, being a vocal and emotional leader is a bit more of a stretch for the former Ole Miss football player.
"Z's a laid back guy. He's not exactly the 'rah-rah' type," Shulman said of Mason, who transferred to UTC in 2011 after two seasons of SEC football. "He didn't come here thinking he was going to be the man. He came here thinking he's getting out of the sun and he won't be hit by 250-pound linebackers."
Mason admits to being more of a "speak softly and carry a big stick" kind of guy. Now he not only needs a bigger stick, but a louder voice as well.
"I wouldn't say I feel comfortable (as a vocal leader) because it's not in my character," Mason said. "But I see that's what's necessary right now. That's what the team needs, and if that's what needs to be done, I have to accept that role."
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound post player has worked tirelessly the last 12 months to mold himself into an all-around player, especially his shooting.
Mason has expanded his range to become a threat beyond the 3-point arc. Shulman has enough confidence in his big man's outside shot that he's even started drawing up plays to get Mason looks from the outside.
"He can really shoot the ball," Shulman said. "Last year it was like the YMCA: if he was open he was going to shoot it. I told him if you're going to shoot it, you're going to work on it.
"Well he worked on it, and now he's becoming more of a complete player that can step out and cause a mismatch for our opponents."
But it's still not enough.
It's not enough if the Mocs' young roster is going to continue to mature. It's not enough if UTC is going to close the season strong and compete for a Southern Conference tournament title.
A reporter commented Tuesday about Mason's broad shoulders.
"Ya, they're pretty strong I guess," the humble junior shrugged, then realizing that's exactly where he's going to have to put his team over the season's final month.
"A lot of the times I get fatigued throughout the games and I won't ask for a sub because I want to be in," he said," but I feel like I have more left in the tank to give my basketball team."
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