"Unselfish" Mocs ready for "special" season
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Four days ahead of his team's season-opener, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman is still uncharacteristically calm.
His typical preseason optimism includes a little more confidence than in recent years, and he said Thursday it's come with fewer headaches as well.
"We look like a good basketball team," Shulman said. "Now the lights haven't been on yet, but I wish people could watch us come practice. We have been so unselfish its phenomenal.
"That's why I'm in a good mood. I hope I stay in a good mood."
One would think a season-opening road trip to Big Ten foe Indiana and two-time defending national runner-up Butler would have the potential to change that mood in a hurry. Shulman says that's not the case.
He's not going to come out and say the Mocs WILL beat the Hoosier State duo, but he isn't going to dwell on early season disappointments if they lose.
"They always say 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' and what happens in November stays in November," Shulman joked. "What happens in November will make us better. We need two challenges like this to see where we need to get better.
"If you go up there and have great success, it still won't affect anything when we play Georgia Southern to start conference play. A lot of teams peak in November, and that's not good. Other teams won't play well in November and they let it affect them in January, and that's not good either. You've got to play the whole season."
In Shulman's eyes, his team became better by simply turning the pages on the calendar. Seniors Keegan Bell, Ricky Taylor, Omar Wattad and Chris Early are as experienced a starting lineup as any team in the Southern Conference.
"It's hard to be really successful when you have young guys," he said. "You can do it, but it's easier when you have veterans."
All four started their careers at BCS schools, and are now entering their third year of playing together at UTC.
"I think chemistry takes time," said Bell, who originally signed with Vanderbilt, where he started at point guard as a true freshman. "We've been patient and now that we've been around each other for awhile we've figured each other out."
The other big change required a little more effort.
Shulman said the Mocs played "10 minutes of offense and 30 minutes of defense" last season while rushing shots and tossing up contested 3-pointers.
That approach helped the Mocs jump out to a 7-0 conference start and eventually ended with another North Division title. But on nights the shots weren't falling, like a quarterfinal loss to Furman in the SoCon Tournament, UTC could be beaten by just about anyone.
"I think we could do the same thing we did last year and have the same similar success," Shulman said. "We could shoot it quick and have the same talented guys on the floor, but I think we want more."
"I think we want more."
The seniors want it, too.
Bell sat out a transfer year and Taylor was only a freshman during UTC's last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008-09. Wattad and Early weren't even on the team.
Three years later, they know they've got one more chance to leave their legacy in the rafters of McKenzie Arena, and they know disciplined, unselfish and intelligent play is the only way to get that done.
"We want it all. We want to win it all. We feel we've gone through the wars. We're together now and we're talented right now," Bell said. "We need to do something special. We want this year to be something we can remember forever."