published Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

UTC Mocs basketball team succeeding through role play

STARRING ROLES

Zaccheus Mason: Be the team leader.

• Result: He's the leading candidate for SoCon player of the year.

Ronrico White: Share your wisdom and use it.

• Result: UTC is undefeated with him in the regular rotation.

Casey Jones: Be a junk-yard dog

• Result: He defends like one and hits 57.9 percent of his shots.

  • photo
    UTC forward Z. Mason (30) looks to pass the ball against Elon.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Ronrico White (11) of UTC pursues a loose ball against Maine during the Dr. Pepper Classic .
    Photo by Maura Friedman /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    UTC's Casey Jones finishes an alley-oop against Samford.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Will Wade learned early on that his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball Mocs are a Type-A team.

They need directions, structure and discipline and think one step at a time. There's no skipping in line at the breakfast buffet or jumping ahead to read the ending of a book. They're mechanical. In a middle school math class they'd show their work. They go 1-2-3-4, step-by-step at everything.

"Our team is very cut and dry," Wade said. "We know that X plus Y equals Z. They don't want any wiggle room."

So Wade, in his first year as a head coach, gave each player a card to hang in his locker, spelling out each player's specific role on this team.

For one guy, it was shoot when open. Another card stated that the player's job is to be the best screener on the team. It's not a glamorous job. But he does it, and by doing so, he helps UTC win.

When handing out the cards in November, Wade said that if each player does what's on the card the Mocs would win basketball games.

They've done just that.

UTC has won 10 straight games, opened the Southern Conference portion of its season with eight straight wins and has earned the 25th spot in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major Top 25 poll.

"We all knew that he had the winning formula," junior Ronrico White said. "He gave us these roles. He's the head coach and we're his players. We're going to follow what he tells us to do.

"He said, 'Success may follow.'"

It has. And the community, with 6,648 in attendance last Saturday, has noticed UTC's success and chemistry that has led to 10 straight wins.

The roles vary by player. But they're all reaching the goals set forth on their pieces of laminated paper hanging in their lockers. The result is a perfect SoCon season so far. UTC plays at Davidson (10-11, 6-1) in a battle between the top two teams Thursday night.

"I even asked [Wade] to define a role for me," Mason said. "I had no idea what to do to help our team win."

Furman coach Niko Medved will watch video from that game in preparation for the Paladins' game at UTC on Saturday.

"They have really blended well and have a nice mix of talent, and most importantly, guys are playing their role," Medved said. "One of the biggest challenges you have as a coach is getting guys to buy their role. But [the Mocs] see how much fun it is, and they get credit for being part of something bigger than themselves.

"They've got that going. Guys have bought in."

The payout could be a regular-season championship if UTC players play their roles and carry out their responsibilities.

"It's definitely a big turnaround from last year to this year," Mason said. "It's fun to be in this situation, and it's fun to be able to continue it."

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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