Chattanooga basketball fans have no doubt noticed by now that the ban on junior college transfers that had been in place under former director of athletics Rick Hart hasn’t been continued by his successor, David Blackburn.
Actually, it never really was a ban, as Hart told Nooga.com in early 2012. “I’m not saying we won’t have a transfer, but we’re going to build our program a little differently,” Hart said. Still, it was a jolt to former coach John Shulman’s system. As he pointed out at the time, UTC had a JUCO transfer on its roster for the previous 35 seasons. To quit taking them cold turkey was going to be a major adjustment.
Shulman wasn’t around long enough for Hart’s limit on transfers to affect his program; he was fired after last season. And Hart left well before Shulman did. After Hart took over as AD at SMU, Blackburn replaced him. One of Blackburn’s first tasks was to hire a new basketball coach. His hand-picked replacement for Shulman, Will Wade, is free to sign whomever he sees fit, and in his first full recruiting class, which he hopes to lock down in November, there will be two junior college transfers, 6-6 forward Anthony “Duke” Ethridge of South Georgia Tech and 6-1 guard Jacolby Mobley of East Mississippi Community College.
“I’m OK with us signing junior college student-athletes,” Blackburn said. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t. If you look at the history of schools like us, you have to have a little bit of that, so you can keep pace with schools with larger budgets. Instead of a blue-chip freshman, we might have to take a player who comes to us with more experience.
“For Will to build back our program as quickly as our fans would like, he’s got to have a little flexibility. I trust him.”
Blackburn needn’t worry about Wade’s program becoming JUCO heavy. Wade has no intention of being overly reliant on transfers, but he’ll take one if it makes sense.
“You take them on an as-needed basis,” Wade said. “I think we’ve got a very young team. I thought for our program, we needed to add some experience and some older guys, guys who have played college basketball. It was important for us to add some maturity and some guys who have been around the block.”
Both of UTC’s JUCO commitments were recruited to fill specific needs. Ethridge will replace senior forward Z. Mason. Mobley has the flexibility to play either guard spot. Wade doesn’t want to ever get caught short of players who can handle the point.
“If we take a transfer, they have to fit in with what we’re doing, the balance of the team and where we see the program now and where we see it heading,” Wade said.
Power conference schools have become less reliant on junior college talent in recent years because of the proliferation of post-graduate prep and military schools. But some, notably Marquette, have had considerable success using JC transfers to fill in holes, just has Wade intends to do. He sees no stigma attached to players who couldn’t, or didn’t choose to play Division I basketball right out of high school.
“There are a ton of kids in junior college who can play Division I basketball,” Wade said. “It’s just about finding the right fit for your program, and a lot of it has to do with timing, finding guys on the uptick. Some mature late. Some of them hit a growth spurt.
“You see a lot of kids that we call 4-2-4 transfers, guys who start out at a low- or mid-major Division I program, transfer to junior college and end up at a high major DI. Those kids just developed later, and they did it at the junior college level as opposed through a four-year school. There are a lot of different stories. And for us, it’s all about finding players who fit in with what we’re trying to do here.”
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