published Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

No 4 warning for UTC Mocs duo

  • photo
    UTC basketball player Lance Stokes shoots during practice at McKenzie Arena.

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    Drew Baker looks to pass the ball during a drill at UTC basketball practice.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Freshman Lance Stokes is not senior Jahmal Burroughs in terms of experience.

Sophomore Drew Baker is not Zaccheus Mason in terms of physical stature.

But Stokes and Baker were the best options University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach John Shulman had to play at the 4 position (power forward) last Saturday in what turned out to be a last-second loss, and they will be the best options for the foreseeable future.

"That's the cards that we've been dealt," Shulman said Monday. "We've been dealt some unique hands this season. You have to make it work. The season isn't going to wait."

There were three power forwards ahead of Stokes and Baker on the depth chart when the season began.

Chris Early tweeted his way off the team. Mason has struggled with right knee issues for the last few weeks, and Burroughs pulled a hamstring in the first half against Davidson on Thursday.

While Stokes and Baker played most of the minutes at power forward on Saturday, starting small forward Omar Wattad spent time there, too, late in the second half.

"I wasn't counting on Jahmal and Z both being out," Shulman said. "We've had to make some adjustments, and we've got a package for Omar to play the 4 so he doesn't have to remember every single play."

Burroughs and Mason wore date-night clothes Saturday. Shulman said Mason is 50-50 for Thursday's game at Western Carolina and Burroughs is more doubtful to play.

So, as Shulman said last week, it's time for the next man to stand up.

But Stokes and Baker are barely out of basketball boyhood. Both were projected to play a few minutes here and there in a few games this season.

Stokes logged 17 minutes, Baker 14, and each had four points and three rebounds Saturday night. Baker had a first-half tip-dunk.

"I thought Lance did a great job," Shulman said. "He's not a 4. He's a 3 we had to sneak down there. Drew did a great job, too."

Power forward is not the position Shulman recruited Stokes to play, or the spot he's practiced much of the season.

He's a freshman, not only playing but starting out of position in the heart of the SoCon season. Stokes began Saturday's game with 88 minutes of experience this season with a season high of 12 minutes against Division I competition -- Appalachian State.

"I was able to get into the flow of the game, and that felt good," Stokes said. "I wish I could have made one more play, another box-out or something, to help the team more.

Baker's story is more well-known. He arrived on campus as a manager, earned a jersey in preseason last year and played only against Virginia Intermont and Tennessee Temple. He remains a walk-on this year.

Including Saturday's 75-72 loss to Georgia Southern, Baker has played a total of 74 minutes in the last two seasons, with most of the time coming in garbage time or against non-Division I competition.

"There's a lot of difference in experience between me and Lance and Jahmal and Z," Baker said. "Experience is good, but it's not like, if you don't have it you can't do well."

But UTC received a total of 13 points from the trio of Stokes, Baker and Wattad on Saturday. That's not close to the average of 22 points from the trio of Wattad, Burroughs and Mason.

It's just different. And it's going to be that way for the time being.

"Jahmal and Z bring incredible energy, they're great rebounders and they're bigs," Stokes said. "Me and Drew are more of swing men."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

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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