published Monday, November 21st, 2011

Baker gets shot to start for Mocs

Drew Baker wore a Mocs basketball t-shirt and whatever shorts he had laying around his dorm room while playing dummy offense during his first few weeks of practice in 2009.

Then after working up a good sweat and making good plays against the scholarship players, he collected and laundered University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball jerseys after practice.

He was a manager -- part of the team but not a participant in the fall of 2009.

A couple weeks later, coach John Shulman awarded Baker a jersey, No. 5, and made him part of the team as a walk-on. He played 15 minutes in two blow-out games that season.

Two years later, with a redshirt season in between, Baker is expected to be in the starting lineup tonight when the Mocs face Warren Wilson at 7 in McKenzie Arena.

"It's exciting because I've worked for two years and I'm going to try and do everything I can and what I do in practice," said Baker, who played two minutes at IU, did not play at Butler or against Kennesaw State. "It's not about me. It's about the team. Playing time is not my decision but I go out and try to earn it."

Shulman said he's earned the start along with fellow walk-on Dontay Hampton who will start at shooting guard against Warren Wilson which is a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.

"This is about production, playing hard and defending and playing for the name on the front of that jersey," Shulman said. "As a coach you have to follow your gut and instincts, and sometimes it's hard. Maybe it's not the most popular decision.

"But my gut has been telling me this for a long time."

UTC took several pictures during its preseason photo day before the 2009-10 season. Some pictures had Baker dressed as a manager. Other pictures had him in uniform.

Shulman decided to give Baker -- now a 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward -- a spot on the roster after a few weeks of practice and prior to the 2009 exhibition game.

"I wanted to get a jersey, I wanted to be a player at UTC, so I had to do whatever I needed to get that," Baker said. "Coach Shulman felt I deserved an opportunity, and I give him a lot of credit for believing in me."

Shulman is putting former Oklahoma recruit and 2010-11 starter Chris Early on the bench in place of Baker and two-year starter Ricky Taylor on the pine in place of Hampton for at least tonight's game.

"It's about making tough decisions and helping Chattanooga win basketball games," Shulman said. "Nobody said it was that much fun to be the head coach because you have to make decisions."

Shulman understands that his choice may not be popular, especially because he has several different options, including true freshmen guards Ronrico White and Lance Stokes as well as freshman forward Jared Bryant. Senior forward Jahmal Burroughs could be in the mix as well as a starter in future games based on the results from tonight -- which should be positive for all involved.

"The fans are part of it," Shulman said. "They're not in practice every day, and they don't see what I see every day which is Tay kicking tail, and Drew kicking tail all the time.

"They're hungry to be on the floor and other guys aren't as hungry."

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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utcscoop said...

Be interesting if he leaves any of his new recruits in long enough to determine whether they are able to lift the team. Watch the long faces on the UTC bench tonight and all will see the inspirational tone that Shulman sets for the team. And be prepared for his post- game blame routine that it is all about the team not performing; coaches must be doing everything right. Must feel good to know that failure does not rest on the Shulman shoulders. And he is right, the diminishing number of fans do not watch practice; fans see his practice performance live and it costs money.

November 21, 2011 at 11:19 a.m.
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