Justin Tuoyo met Tre McLean on a Sunday morning this summer in the apartments at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The teammates were in the basketball gym that afternoon forging a friendship with common bonds that extend beyond the court.
"From day one, we were clicking," Tuoyo said. "We come from a similar background. We both have to sit out. We both want to get better. It's a connection we've got."
Both players are taking a redshirt year after transferring to UTC after their freshman season. Both followed the coaches who recruited them to help resurrect the proud Southern Conference program.
Tuoyo, a 6-foot-10 forward, followed Mocs head coach Will Wade from Virginia Commonwealth after averaging 1.2 points, 1.4 rebounds and 7.4 minutes per game for the Rams.
McLean, a 6-5 guard, followed Wes Long -- now an assistant for Wade -- from Queens University in Charlotte. He started 17 times for the Royals, who play on the Division II level.
Both had faith in their coaches -- another common bond -- that Chattanooga is the perfect spot to play.
"They've become best friends on the team, and they get along well," Wade said. "They have similar backgrounds, they have similar personalities and they're going through the same process. They're a natural fit with each other.
"The stars aligning make them close."
They're teammates, roommate and friends. Sophomores Casey Jones and Gee McGhee, two guards from Louisiana, similarly developed an instant connection last year.
It's rare to see McLean or Tuoyo on campus without the other, especially after classes are done for the day.
"As soon as we wake up in the morning, Tuoyo is trying to get everybody hyped," McLean said. "First thing. We've got that passion."
It carries over on to the court during practice each afternoon. There have been times this season that Tuoyo and McLean have been the best players in practice. They regularly form two-thirds of the scout team sporting jerseys with the numbers of opposing players taped on their backs.
Bringing passion, energy and enthusiasm every day is a major part of their roles this year. They've both embraced that part of the job. After all, running the scout team against the regulars in practice is their only time to play.
"It's fun giving it back to them," Tuoyo said. "I realize I make them better. I take those times as my game day. It might be practice for them, but it's game day for me."
Some days, they've won their games.
"They get their joy out of beating our guys who are playing, and they've done their fair share of it," Wade said. "They've made for a more competitive environment, and they bring a competitiveness to our scout team."
When the Mocs have played home games this season, Tuoyo and McLean have watched warm-ups, listened to pregame speeches and sat toward the end of the bench in school-issued sweats. They cheer as much -- if not more -- than anybody else in McKenzie Arena.
"Game days are killing me inside because I'm so passionate about the game," McLean said. "It's killing me being out, but it's for a good cause."
It's for the good of the team, which will include at least six new players -- including Tuoyo and McLean -- next season. They'll be eligible to play along with signees Shaq Preston, Jacolby Mobley, Brandon Maxwell and Duke Etheridge, who all went through the traditional recruiting process.
McLean and Tuoyo landed at UTC by placing their trust in Wade and Long.
Tuoyo chose to leave VCU after last season. Wade kept him in the loop during UTC's coaching search even though Tuoyo visited Mercer.
"I made a decision with my mom that I would come closer to home," said Tuoyo, who played at Lovejoy in Fayetteville, Ga. "I trust Coach Wade. He got the job and I came up. Me and him already had a good relationship, and he and mom are almost best of friends."
McLean, who was recruited by former coach John Shulman, chose to play at Queens because of his relationship with Long. McLean didn't like the news that Long was leaving Charlotte. But knowing McLean could help UTC in the future, Long wasn't going to leave him behind.
"When he told me he was leaving, I felt like I was losing something big in my life," McLean said. "Then he told me to sit tight. I told him, 'If I can come with you, I'm all in.'"
Together, they've already proven that they're all in at UTC.
"They've had some struggles coming up, and they both have high appreciation levels for being here and for what Coach Long and myself have done for them," Wade said. "They're pleasers and they want to make the most of this opportunity.
"They're cut from the same cloth."
The threads are blue and gold.
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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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