published Thursday, June 16th, 2011

UTC basketball adds tight end

Zacchaeus Mason once made the difficult decision to play football at Ole Miss instead of playing basketball at a mid-major school.

He’s reversed that decision.

Mason, a former Mr. Basketball candidate from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, has signed scholarship papers to begin his college basketball career at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“At the time, I felt like it was a great decision to play [tight end] for Ole Miss because I wanted to play at a big school in front a a big crowd and you really can’t beat the SEC,” Mason said. “I think I made that choice based on the big school name and not what was truly in my heart.

“Basketball is in my heart and I love this game.”

Mason will be a scholarship player who is immediately eligible to play basketball and has three years to play three seasons for the Mocs.

He will take the scholarship previously awarded to incoming freshman Emmanuel Ochenje from Nigeria who was not declared eligible by the NCAA clearinghouse after attending prep school at Brehm Academy in Carbondale, Ill.

Ochenje was rated the No. 1 recruit in Illinois for 2012 before deciding to graduate early, and one of the highest-rated recruits to sign with Shulman.

“You have a really good student in Manny, but because of his journey, some of his credits from Nigeria did not go through,” UTC coach John Shulman said. “He’s a great kid and a great student, but putting all his stuff through the clearinghouse eligibility center didn’t work. He did everything that was asked of him and did great on the tests, but he got caught in a predicament.”

The departures of DeAntre Jefferson and Jeremy Saffore, plus the upcoming redshirt of Sam Watson due to surgery left Shulman looking for depth in the post.

He found it in the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Mason who averaged about 24 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game during his senior season at CPA.

Mason had been on Shulman’s recruiting list long before Mason chose the pigskin over the round ball.

“We knew of Z, and we were on him everywhere we went,” Shulman said. “At the time, he was an undersized post player who could step out and shoot 3s. He was a mid-major dream. But somebody talked him into football and we went, ‘Oh no.’

“But he was the No. 2 ranked tight-end in America so he went with high-major football.”

Mason’s college football career lasted two seasons with his first as a redshirt and his second as limited role player who did not have one reception.

“The decision to quit football was tough, but I missed basketball,” Mason said. “It was like, ‘I’m not really enjoying playing football because I miss basketball so much.’ Something inside said I needed to get on the hardwood.”

Mason said the connection he built with the UTC coaching staff during his high school days quickly dwindled the number of colleges where he would play basketball. He said it was basically UTC and nobody else.

“I knew that UTC is a high mid-major and they were constantly trying to get me back in the so much that I think they only missed one of my AAU games,” Mason said. “I felt sincere that this would be a great place for me.”

about David Uchiyama...

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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