The bus carrying the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team is supposed to leave McKenzie Arena about noon today.
After a stop in Knoxville for the pregame meal and a team meeting, the Mocs should arrive at Western Carolina University in time for a walk-through before their Southern Conference game tonight at 7.
But nobody knew Thursday night how many healthy and eligible players would be on that bus.
The game was scheduled for Thursday but postponed until Monday on Wednesday, when four Mocs went down with influenza. It was moved back to tonight on Thursday afternoon.
"We'll take whoever we can take," UTC coach John Shulman said. "I didn't know who we were playing [first on the trip], and who's playing for us, but I definitely know now that we're playing Western. But I spent all morning thinking that we were playing Appalachian.
"We're trying to piece it together."
The Mocs still will play Saturday at Appalachian State in Boone, N.C, but that game time has been pushed back from 2 to 7 p.m. in light of UTC's new Cullowhee plan.
In a key road trip for the SoCon North Division leaders, the Mocs (14-11, 10-3) could have as few as six players or as many as nine available. The flu has joined forces with injury and a suspension.
"It's been crazy and it's like one of those things that you see on the news and don't think it will happen to you, but it has," said DeAntre Jefferson, one of the healthy Mocs. "This is where being mentally tough comes into play."
Senior center Jeremy Saffore was the first to be diagnosed with the virus. He returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis.
Starting guards Keegan Bell and Omar Wattad and reserve forward Jeff Smith were still under a 48-hour quarantine. They will visit with a doctor this morning to see if they can make the trip.
Even if they get to go, they may not play against the second-place Catamounts.
They could sit out tonight and play at third-place Appalachian State on Saturday. And if a player is not cleared to participate tonight, he could get clearance Saturday morning and then be driven to Boone to face the Mountaineers.
The scenarios for participation are endless. And the worst part for Shulman is not knowing.
"We're at six and at Appalachian we're at seven, but who else can play [tonight] I don't know," Shulman said. "Now we're playing two games in 24 hours plus travel, plus getting to bed at 1 a.m. Saturday, plus sick guys and how much do they play Friday. Would they even be able to play Saturday?
"There are a lot of question marks."
The craziness began last Saturday when forward Chris Early was given a flagrant foul and ejected at Davidson. SoCon rules require that he sit out the next game -- the WCU game, no matter its date.
Saffore became ill Tuesday. Bell, Wattad and Smith were diagnosed Wednesday after the entire team was tested. That left UTC with five players, considering Sam Watson is out with a shoulder injury, for the original date of Thursday.
Late Wednesday, officials from the SoCon, UTC, WCU and ASU moved Thursday's game to Monday. In that scenario, Western Carolina would have finished its regular season with five games in nine days.
Then on Thursday, they moved the game back to tonight and delayed the start of UTC's game at App State by five hours. Both WCU and UTC will play two games in two days, with WCU hosting Samford at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"We were pleased to work with Chattanooga when we were alerted to their predicament, and Monday seemed like the best alternative date [at the time]," WCU athletic director Chip Smith said in a release. "However, as the situation matured, we were able to find a solution that best accommodated both teams' schedules."
SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said Thursday night that Smith and UTC athletic director Rick Hart reset the game after Smith realized he had put his team in a bad situation to end the season, and Hart didn't want to put the Cats in that spot since his team put them an awkward situation to begin with.
"I suggested Rick and Chip talk together," Iamarino said. "Rick basically said, 'We know we've caused some inconveniences, so we'll go to Western and play Friday.'
"Then Western and App were cooperative in pushing back Saturday start times."
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David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...
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