When a new coach takes over a college basketball program, it’s inevitable that a player who was underutilized by the previous coach is rediscovered and repurposed for the common good.
A notable example that fans in Tennessee may readily recall is Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith. Former Vol coach Buzz Peterson had to be convinced by his staff that Smith, who had several mid-major Division I offers, was worthy of being taken in as a walk-on. But in 2005, Smith’s freshman season, he played just eight minutes a game, averaged 1.9 points and 0.8 rebounds and shot .294 from 3-point range.
After Peterson was fired and replaced by Bruce Pearl, Smith’s playing time tripled, he averaged 9.5 points and 3.1 rebounds and shot .377 from 3.
In fairness, Smith played because Pearl needed bodies in his first season. But Smith also became a major contributor because his new coach convinced him he was needed, which couldn’t help but raise his confidence level.
Smith’s story, by way of introduction, brings us around to Chattanooga and its new coach, Will Wade, who takes over from John Shulman. Wade finds himself short of bodies and in need of shooters, just like Pearl did at Tennessee. Wade doesn’t have a JuJuan Smith on his roster—most of the guards he will count on played significant minutes under Shulman—but he does have Alex Bran, who in his own way could be as impactful for Wade as Smith was for Pearl.
That’s because Bran, a 6-1 sophomore, has a skill that has become a commodity in today’s game. He’s a shooter—a deep shooter. And Wade, who will utilize his customized offshoot of the “Havoc” system he helped coach Shaka Smart create at VCU, needs shooters. His plan is for the Mocs to launch upwards of 30 3-pointers a game, in the hope of making 10.
If the Mocs are to average that many 3s, Bran could be a handy guy to have around.
“He can really, really shoot it,” Wade said. “And any team we have here, if you can shoot it, you’re gonna be able to play. Alex can certainly do that. But he’s also a good competitor, and he’s got a level of toughness to him.”
Bran had his moments last season. He racked up 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals against Reinhardt. Against D-I competition, he scored nine points twice, against Utah Valley and UNC Greensboro and eight, in just six minutes, against Mercer.
Bran played in just 19 of 32 games and averaged 5.9 minutes, so other than those rare scoring outbursts, there isn’t much history for Wade to extrapolate what the guard is capable of providing. But there are two little kernels of statistics that are encouraging.
Bran shot .374 percent from 3-point range—excellent considering his playing time was sporadic. And he averaged a point every two minutes he was on the floor. Not exactly prolific, but evidence Bran knows what do to with the basketball.
“I’ve always had pretty good fundamentals when it comes to shooting,” said Bran, a Memphis native who began his post-high school career at Air Force Prep. “It just kind of came naturally, I guess, having good mechanics.”
Bran, who played high school basketball at St. Georges, thought he knew what was in store at Air Force Prep. He would eventually have fed into the varsity team at Air Force, which meant he would have been playing in a good basketball league, the Mountain West, against New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State.
“When I went to Air Force, I knew what was going to happen,” Bran said. “ I knew there was a military commitment and I was all about that. Ever since I was little it was something I was passionate about. But once I got there, the basketball just wasn’t my kind of style. Mainly Princeton stuff, but all I wanted to do was run.”
So Bran left and walked on at Chattanooga because of his relationship with Shulman. After the coaching change he could have gone on the move again, but Wade convinced Bran he could find a bigger role if he stayed around.
“I see this as an opportunity,” Bran said. “At first I was super nervous about coach Wade. Was he gonna like me? Was he gonna like my game?”
Bran definitely liked Wade’s system.
“I wanted to play at a fast pace,” Bran said. “I got my wish. And I love coach Wade.”
Wade was happy to have retained a player who could become a vital part of his sytem.
“We’re really excited he stuck with us,” Wade said. “He’s gonna have a role on this team all season and really contribute. I could see him playing a major role.
“Our task is to get him to be shot ready all the time. We’ll live with the results. We feel good when the ball leaves his hand.”
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