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Front Page - Friday, November 3, 2017

Midnight for Paris: Dream job, sleepless nights for UTC coach

Roster and recruiting defections left UTC coach Lamont Paris in search of players when he took over the Moc program. - Photograph courtesy of Angela Foster/GoMocs.com

So, you think you’d like to be a college basketball coach, huh? Kind of a dream job, beats a 9-5, lunch-pail kind of existence all day.

Folks welcome you to their home, feed you and brown-nose you while you decide if their precious little hoopster is worthy of your program.

Might want to rethink that notion.

With practice well underway and the start of the 2017-18 season mere days away, new Chattanooga head basketball coach Lamont Paris is all about Xs and Os with his 10-player roster, not mindful at all that his Mocs are predicted to finish seventh in the nine-team Southern Conference.

To get to this point, Paris had to endure enough roster upheaval to last a decade.

It’s not good or bad, it’s just the way college basketball is in 2017.

Players chose a coach, not a school. Academics? Local flavor? Fan support? None of this matters to most of these kids, whose floor skills are largely honed in largely anonymous summer leagues before crowds almost exclusively made of scouts.

When Paris – regarded as one of the nation’s best recruiters – left the comfort of Madison, Wisconsin, where he was the associate head coach and the Badgers had averaged 27 wins in each of his seven seasons there – it did not appear that the cupboard was bare. Far from it.

When Matt McCall was spirited away to UMass quite unexpectedly, he left behind a total of five signed recruits – not committed, signed – a transfer and a couple of redshirts. The latter pair included Chuck Ester, who was regarded as the most talented player on last year’s Mocs team had he not wrecked is ankle before playing in a game.

Then, those recruits scrambled to get away from UTC like the gym was on fire. A couple were actively re-recruited by Paris, to no avail.

All five early signees from last November are now elsewhere:

Jalen Crutcher, who Paris very much wanted to keep, requested his release in May and signed with Dayton.

Terry Nolan, Jr. requested a release from his signing in April, and within hours had been recruited by George Washington University.

Eric Turner, a junior college prize out of Chipola College, “parted company” with UTC sometime in August; no new destination is known.

Demarcus Mitchell decommitted, and he considered an offer with Wichita State but did not sign.

Joan Duran, a transfer signee who prepped in Chattanooga with Hamilton Heights, did not qualify.

If that wasn’t discouraging enough, transfer Andrew Fleming decided to re-transfer, only this month getting cleared to play with Lipscomb University. And Ester officially parted company with the program in July, his sixth year of eligibility not yet officially appealed.

Two players who actually logged playing time for the Mocs last season also transferred. Guard Peyton Woods has transferred to Tusculum, while lone senior Trayvond Massenburg, 6-foot-8, has opted to move on to a Division II Texas school.

So, what is a coach whose reputation was built on recruiting to do?

If you’re Lamont Paris, you roll up your sleeves and embrace the chance to have a team completely built in your own style and image on Day 1 of Year 1.

First, there are the few holdovers who will be the veterans of Paris’ first team. Rodney Chatman, who was a valuable sixth man, became a starter down the stretch when four-year starter Greg Pryor was injured. Playing every game, he averaged 5.3 points per game.

Redshirt David-Jean Baptiste (6-1, Miami) figures to find time at both guard spots, but he will need to show the new coaching staff where he best fits in for their needs.

Junior Nat Dixon (6-4, Panama City) logged significant minutes at two different positions, averaging 2.5 points. Shooting guard Makale Foreman, who was an explosive freshman with The Citadel before transferring to Chattanooga, will have a chance to be a go-to player offensively once again. He’s a sophomore.

Then came the recruits, Paris’ own recruits.

“Typically, I like for (post) guys to be versatile, offensively and defensively,” Paris explains. “They need to have the ability to guard different types of players. I like for them to be able to make decisions offensively and handle the ball on the perimeter – and pass it.

“If they can shoot it (from the perimeter), even better.

“There are a lot of different ways you can go when recruiting wing prospects,” Paris explains. “Sometimes you like bigger and stronger, sometimes you go for wiry and more athletic. I’ve had smaller guys, but toughness needs to be part of their skill set.”

The spring signing period began on May 10 with the announcement of four quality signs.

That group was led by 6-10 Justin Brown of Chicago Marist, a player widely touted as one of the most improved in the city.

Guards Jonathan Bryant, 6-3, from Orange Park, Florida, and Jerry Johnson Jr., a transfer from Fairfield University opting to come home, were signed (Johnson will redshirt).

James Lewis, Jr., a 6-6 forward, played a season with a postgraduate team after a sterling career in Mt. Holly, North Carolina. He fits Paris’ description perfectly and fills a huge need.

“Extremely excited about the group,” Paris says. “It’s nice to be able to come in and make an impact bringing some much-needed depth. All of these fit specific needs while building toward the future.”

He also awarded a scholarship to walk-on Dylan Brewster from Lenoir City.

But he was far from finished.

Duane Moss, a 6-6 forward from Myrtle Beach who was granted a release from Youngstown State when its head coach left, signed with UTC at the end of May. He is the son of Coastal Carolina assistant coach Bennie Moss.

“As a coach’s son, it breeds a lot of confidence in the fact they’ve been around the game at a high level their entire life,” Paris says. “Extremely excited about his skill-set as a combo forward. When I think of some of things we want to do on the basketball court, he embodies a lot of that as a player.”

Finding an abundance of in-state talent still unsigned, Paris was like a whirlwind. He picked up Nick DesMarais, a 6-4 White House Heritage forward, as a walk-on the first day of practice. Nashville’s AJ Bowers (MLK) also agreed to walk on in October.

While unable to get the versatile Duran signed, Paris returned to the Hamilton Heights trough in June to secure 6-1 guard C.J. Massengill as a walk-on. He was actually a reserve on the Hawks, but the three guards ahead of him in 2016-17 signed full rides at Kentucky, Virginia Tech and MTSU.

Practice has been encouraging. For starters, Paris did not need to issue name tags to acquaint all of his new players with one another.

“Guys have made a lot of improvement,” he says. “There’s a lot of parity right now because there’s not a lot of game experience out there to separate them. One minute one guy looks better than the next, then another guy steps up and looks better than him.

“As a whole, we’re getting better and developing,” Paris added.

Mocs are consensus seventh in SoCon

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree on their assessment of the Chattanooga Mocs this coming basketball season – they don’t think Paris’ first team will be very good.

Atop the conference, the coaches say, will be Mercer and Samford, each returning all five starters.

The media like Furman to win it all, placing Mercer a distant sixth. Furman is third in the coaches’ poll.

Media and coaches agree that UTC seems destined for a seventh-place finish, given their almost total lack of experience. Only Western Carolina and VMI (which graduated the conference’s leading scorer) are below them.

Webb sets SoCon record

The Chattanooga Mocs’ dismal football season brightened considerably with their road upset of Samford, ranked No. 8 in the FCS.

The 23-21 win was the first over a ranked team on the road in 34 years.

During the game, senior defensive back Lucas Webb (Northport, Alabama) returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown. It was the fourth pick six of his career, establishing a new standing for the Southern Conference.

It was the fifth defensive touchdown overall for Webb, tying him for the most-ever in the league in that category.

The Mocs had a total of seven takeaways in the game after going without a single one in the previous four games, all losses.

Three of them were interceptions as Samford threw the ball 55 times.

(Special thanks to the UTC sports information department for making this story possible!)