published Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Chattanooga Mocs feel they benefited from trip West

Gee McGhee has lived his entire life in the South. The Louisiana native loves gumbo and boudin balls.

But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore guard has zero problems with the West after he and his Mocs teammates spent nine days in Nevada and Southern California.

He said he could live out there after his basketball career ends and put his criminal justice major to use in the workforce.

"The sights -- it's real beautiful," McGhee said. "It's always sunny; the weather is great. I would move out there if I had the chance."

McGhee learned about some differences between Southern style and a West Coast way of life in the past week. He, the entire Mocs team and coach Will Wade learned more about each other as individuals and what they can do as a team on the court while playing four games in the Pacific Time Zone.

"One of my teammates played the violin," McGhee said. "I can't release the identity of that person. We're going to keep that in the family."

On the trip, UTC lost at Nevada on a last-second 3-pointer by Deonte Burton, who is a potential NBA player, and then were whipped 106-65 by UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. Then they headed to Las Vegas, where they lost 88-75 to Morehead State on Thursday and beat IUPUI -- which plays in the Summit Conference -- on Friday, 87-76, for their first Division I win of the year.

"I think we hit a lull at UCLA, but we've improved each time we've come out," Wade said about three hours after the Mocs returned to campus at 8:30 Saturday morning after taking a red-eye flight from Vegas.

"Our offense, we're playing at a pretty high level," he said. "We're scoring a lot of points. That's promising for us. Other than UCLA, our rebounding was pretty good -- better than I thought."

UTC shot 47.4 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from the 3-point line during its trip. Yet it also allowed opponents to shoot 57.6 percent from the floor and average 88.3 points per game.

The Mocs never held a team under 76 points on the trip and are allowing 85.8 per game to Division I opponents, including an 89-78 loss at Radford and a 73-69 loss to Kennesaw State.

"We have some deficiencies on defense that we need to shore up," Wade said. "We have to guard the ball better. We have to get better there."

It's hard for a player to have a better trip than senior forward Zaccheus Mason. He averaged 22.5 points and eight rebounds per game. He tied his career high of 27 points Friday against the Jaguars.

"Z was just all over the place and he had a great trip," McGhee said. "I'm sure everybody we play knows his name. He posted up; he hit 3s. Everything we needed him to do, he did."

The Mocs will not be doing anything more out West in the near future -- unless the value is beneficial. Wade does not plan to make a similar trip again. He is in negotiations with a tournament with a similar format for next year, when the Mocs would play twice in the Midwest and host two games in McKenzie Arena.

"There's not as much travel involved, and we'll make more money off the event," said Wade, who noted the contracts are not completed. "We're going to play stuff closer to home."

Yet because of this recent trip, McGhee would have no problem making California his home. That's no secret.

Nor is the fact that the trip will have a long-term benefit for the Mocs, who feasted at a Brazilian steakhouse in Vegas.

"It was a long trip but definitely a good experience," junior Lance Stokes said. "We have a lot of good things to take away from the trip."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him 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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