Head coach Will Wade has been on campus since April, and the UTC men’s basketball team has been putting in plenty of work since his arrival. Things get real today, though, as the Mocs take the court for preseason practice No. 1.
“I’m really looking forward to getting together with all the players,” sophomore guard Casey Jones said. “Just seeing the team come together instead of this individual stuff. I just want to see it all unfold together — how it’s going to turn out.
“It’s going to look amazing — Chaos baby.”
And if it seems a little early to start talking hoops, that’s because it is.
In seasons past, teams weren’t permitted to begin its full practice schedule until mid-October. The NCAA’s new rule has moved that date up a couple weeks. This season, teams are allotted 30 practice days in the six weeks leading up to their season-opener.
“It seems a little weird,” Wade said of the earlier start. “It’s September 26 and we’re talking about the start of practice.”
Chattanooga could certainly use the extra practice as it prepares for the 2013-14 season. A comprehensive overhaul of the program, which Wade is aiming to accomplish, takes time.
“I think it’s great for us,” Wade said. “A new coach, trying to get our program running, I think it gives us a lot of extra time to work with our guys without necessarily wearing them down.”
The biggest benefit for UTC probably isn’t more practices, though. It’s the fact that the new rule provides plenty of rest in between for the Mocs’ thin roster. That could pay dividends later in the season.
“The preseason can really wear on you,” Wade said. “I think with how spread out it’s going to be and how spread out our scrimmages are going to be will really help with the wear and tear on our guys and help with injuries ... We’re going to need to stay healthy this year, and I think a big part of that is staying healthy in the preseason.
“I think the preseason is really going to benefit us, not only as a new staff implementing our program, but also to cut down on our injuries.”
The team took a huge hit this summer when junior point guard Ronrico White underwent offseason hip surgery. His return date is still unclear, but Wade said he hopes to have the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder back in time for the team’s Southern Conference opener at Furman on Jan. 4.
“That’s kind of the target date, and we’re hopeful for it,” Wade said. “[White] is doing a phenomenal job with rehab right now and he’s on schedule. We won’t know for sure until he goes in for a checkup in the middle of October.”
VCU transfer Justin Tuoyo and freshman Anthanee Doyle are also inactive at the moment.
Tuoyo, who won’t be eligible for the Mocs in 2013-14, had a minor knee operation about two weeks ago, but he should return to the court in the coming weeks. Doyle, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard out of Holly Springs, N.C., has been on the shelf as well.
“[Doyle] has been battling a little bit of an illness, and right now he’s on a recovery plan with Todd Bullard our trainer and Greg Goldin our strength and conditioning coach,” Wade said. “He’s got some benchmarks to meet with them before we send him back for further evaluation ... We really don’t have a timetable with him.”
“The main thing is to make sure we’ve got fresh legs and clear minds when November 8 rolls around,” Wade said. “We’ve got to adjust what we’re going to do to make that happen, and that’s what we’ve done.”
To combat his squad’s unfortunate luck this offseason, Wade and his staff are turning to walk-ons — not necessarily to play in games, but to provide enough bodies in practice. UTC’s first walk-on tryout was held on Wednesday night.
And while it’s just the first step to Wade’s vetting process, he saw some talent.
“We’ve got two or three guys that we really thought could play," Wade said. "Now we’ve got to bring them back and meet with them, call high school coaches, go through compliance paperwork to make sure they’re eligible ... There’s a lot of other steps to it, and we’ve just sort of started the process.”
Injuries aside, though, the Mocs are overwhelmingly optimistic and ready to get the season underway.
“I’ve been telling Coach Wade since we first talked on the phone this summer,” senior forward Z. Mason said. “I’m ready for this season. The guys worked hard all offseason and I’m just ready to get it started.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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