The first semester of his first season as a head basketball coach is in the books, and Chattanooga’s Will Wade says it was an invaluable learning experience.
Not that Wade had to learn to coach. He arrived with a successful system, work ethic, recruiting connections and a natural inclination to promote his program in place. What Wade has had to learn is survival. The Mocs are 4-8 after having fought through injuries, a difficult road trip just as they were still adjusting to Wade and vice versa, and a couple of other games Wade scheduled (Georgia, UAB) so he can get quality return games to Chattanooga sooner rather than later.
“I’ve learned quite a bit,” Wade said, “A lot of it you just can’t learn until you’re in the position and dealing with different situations and different personalities.
“Every day a different challenge comes up. It’s not the same thing every day, You’ve got to find a way to navigate through the challenges with your staff and players and fit it in the framework with your overall vision and culture.”
Wade didn’t inherit ideal personnel to run his fast-pace “Chaos” system, but he and his staff have recruited it—two transfers, two freshmen and two junior college transfers will join the program next year. “I’m used to having a certain type of player who can do a certain type of thing,” Wade said. “We don’t have that.”
Thus, Wade’s first 12 games have been a constant adjustment period that has been made more difficult by key injuries. Guard Rico White has battled through hip problems and subsequent surgery and has played in just three games. Z Mason, the Mocs’ best player, suffered a broken toe in mid December. If there was any player Wade couldn’t lose, it was Mason, who racked up 41 points and 12 rebounds in a Dec. 10 home game against Hiwassee and then missed two road games at Northern Kentucky and UAB.
“What I’m trying to find is what gives this team—right here, right now—the best framework with which to win while also not sacrificing how we’re gonna play long term,” Wade said.
Along the way the Mocs have made adjustments that might well be incorporated in the future. At UAB, they played a 2-2-1 press that drifted in a 2-3 zone and tried to trap out of the zone in the half court.
“That’s a new wrinkle,” Wade said. “We still pressed and we were still aggressive in trapping in the zone. But it fits within the framework of Chaos and we can maybe add it in the years to come. But for right now, it also gives us the best opportunity to win.”
The Mocs get a final test before starting Southern Conference play begins on Jan. 4. The Dr Pepper Classic brings in a marquee team (Middle Tennessee) the likes of which it hasn’t featured in years. Wade hopes to have Mason back in the lineup. In college basketball, hope is only as far away as the next game, and with 30 or more games on the schedule, there’s a world of opportunity for advancement.
“Our guys are starting to kind of figure it out,” Wade said. “They’ve talked more. They understand a little more what it takes to win, what goes into winning. They used to think you just showed up and played. No one can do that, no matter how good you are. But we’re actually playing pretty well right now.”