Last week, new Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn shared his concern that Moc fans might be expecting too much from first-year basketball coach Will Wade, given his background at VCU and the energy with which he’s attacked the job during his four-plus months on campus.
“With Will, I’m a bit worried people will expect him to wave a wand and it’ll magically get better,” Blackburn said. “It doesn’t work that way.
“He’s trying to change a mindset. I think our players have really bought into that. It’ll get incrementally better.”
Wade’s players don’t share Blackburn’s concern. Queried during a media opportunity on Thursday, one day before the official start of preseason practice, some of the Mocs, obviously not concerned about their lack of height and depth, held up a lofty goal.
“We want to win the SoCon,” senior forward Z Mason said. “You’re always looking to win championships.”
Wade isn’t reaching quite that high, or at least, he’s unwilling to say so.
“I’m not putting a number on it,” Wade said. “I just want to see improvement. I want to see a team that competes every night, and fights for every possession, a team that’s blue collar and comes up with multiple effort plays. I want to be the best conditioned team in the Southern Conference, and let the chips fall where they may.”
So where might those chips fall? Here’s an educated guess that takes into account a speedy return to full strength of point guard Rico White, who underwent offseason hip surgery. Wade hopes White will be ready to roll by the start of SoCon play. That would be a Jan. 4 game at Furman.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Mocs finished with a .500 record. And after 40 losses the last two years, that would represent real progress.
How will the Mocs overcome their obvious challenges? There are only three players taller than 6-5 on the roster. One of those, VCU transfer Justin Tuoyo, is ineligible, and another is a freshman, 6-8 T.J. Williams. Depth is so threadbare, Wade talked on Thursday as though a walk-on or two, culled from an open tryout on Wednesday night, might have to play a little bit.
If the Mocs ring up 15 wins, here’s what has to happen:
. As Wade said, they’ll be the best-conditioned team every night. This is imperative, and judging by the looks of Mason and Casey Jones, the Mocs are well on their way.
. UTC will have to dictate tempo, speeding opponents up and making them play ugly, ugly in the sense that they make more turnovers than normal and their point guard is kept unsettled, on edge all game.
. The Mocs will need to shoot 35 percent or better from 3-point range for the season. If that happens, several players will have had to improve on their career averages. The 3-ball is a huge component of the system Wade brings from VCU, where coach Shaka Smart’s goal is to make at least eight 3s a game. Wade would like to make 10.
Thirty-five percent is attainable, because the Mocs are going to get open looks from 3 in transition. And that’s because they’ll average seven steals a game. Wade wants his players to pass a steal ahead, and often, there will be a man on either wing, wide open as defenses try to stop the easy layup. Even an average college shooter can make 35 percent of his wide-open 3-point shots.
If all the above transpires, it will have been a good first season for Wade. And judging by the class of 2014 recruiting haul Wade and his staff are putting together-a class that technically includes Tuoyo, who will average at least two blocked shots a game next season-the future looks even better.