John Shulman's favorite defensive phrase, "Build a wall," has been replaced — at least temporarily — with something even more simple than that.
"Jump to the ball," rhymes at the end.
"Coach has said it so much that I want to get it out of my head but I can't," freshman Casey Jones said. "Everyday, it's all I hear. 'Jump to the ball.'"
Jumping to the ball — following the direction of a perimeter pass — is a fundamental principle of building a wall in Shulman's defensive philosophy.
That's how basic in nature University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball practices have been tailored in the first weekend of the preseason.
"I can't explain all the things we've had to learn over the last two days," said Jones, who has a list of key phrases including 'Jump to the ball' taped to the back of his apartment door to they're the last thing he sees before heading out. "Every day I have to see it."
Every practice begins with a defensive shell drill designed to instill the habit of following a pass. Rebounding drills have been prevalent as well. And Shulman has taught the Mocs six offensive plays.
He began Sunday's session with a message to continue building good habits. Freshmen usually enter the college game with bad habits, especially defensive one.
And Shulman has five freshmen — four are likely to play significant minutes this year — that he's trying to teach.
Freshman Eric Robertson is trying to kick the following bad habits: "Not boxing out, not closing out, not staying down when people shoot," he said.
Preseason practices have been so fundamental in nature so far this season that Shulman took a moment Saturday to teach inbounding the ball.
Freshman point guard Farad Cobb buried a 3-pointer in a down-and-back session. Instinctively, Robertson grabbed the ball, stepped behind the baseline and tossed it to Sam Watson who stepped out of bounds and threw the ball back to Robertson.
It is never Robertson's job to throw the in-bound pass. That's the job of the power-forward in Shulman's system.
Shulman halted play and pointed out the error. Robertson dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups. Shulman stopped him and said there's no need for push-ups — this time.
"When you get in the emotion of going up-and-down that happens, and they don't think anything of it," Shulman said. "But it's a big deal.
"I'm in the right mode to teach. We're not yelling or screaming at these guys. We're teaching."
With such emphasis on instruction of basics and fundamentals, returning players are re-taking classes they've already passed.
"I know we have a lot of young guys, so we have to go back to the basics," junior Zaccheus Mason said. "You always have to go back to basics because it's the start of the season. It's definitely is tough coming every day having to go over it.
"But it's definitely needed because everybody needs the fundamentals."
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 ...