published Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Ex-redshirts finding niches as Mocs

  • photo
    Drew Baker looks to pass the ball during a drill at UTC basketball practice.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Ryan Gentle, Drew Baker and Martynas Bareika redshirted last season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team.

Now that they're ready to play this year, they have different roles on one of the most experienced teams in the Southern Conference.

Right now, in early November, they'd be the last names to scroll across the screen during the credits for a movie.

Bareika, a native of Lithuania, redshirted last year as he adjusted to a change in culture, academics and college basketball. But he's starting to get it.

Coach John Shulman called out Bareika during the pre-practice huddle Monday and told him that if he'd execute the plays, he could be in the rotation as a wing player. But he's not going to sub for starters Ricky Taylor and Omar Wattad or subs Lance Stokes and Ronrico White quite yet.

"He's been playing good, he's tough and he competes, but his lack of execution costs him," Shulman said before practice. "But he can mess up a play with the best of them. And then he'll look at you like there's a language barrier."

Baker, a walk-on from Knoxville, played two games as a freshman in the 2009-10 season and redshirted last year because Shulman is convinced Baker can be a contributor at power forward by the end of his career. He played three minutes in UTC's exhibition against Tennessee Wesleyan.

"Drew plays at a crowded spot," Shulman said. "I'd have no problem sticking him out there -- not one iota. He competes, runs, jumps, executes, so sticking Drew out there, don't be shocked."

Gentle, a walk-on from Nashville, is strictly a practice player with a nagging hip injury that has limited his practice time. He will play, when healthy, only in blowouts.

"I don't think anybody other than Keegan [Bell] has spent more time in the gym shooting that ball than Ryan," Shulman said. "He's a guy who loves the game."

The former redshirts are last in line behind a starting lineup of four returning senior starters and University of Georgia transfer Drazen Zlovaric, who also redshirted last year. And each has different personal goals for his UTC basketball career.

Barieka wants to start at some point. Baker wants to play meaningful minutes by the end of his career. And Gentle, who could be a stud at a lower level of basketball, wants a shot to contribute by the time he crosses the graduation stage.

"I tried to learn as much as I can last year, and it's easier for me this year," Bareika said. "I'm just trying to get minutes on the court. We have our starting lineup back from last year and we have good freshmen, and healthy competition makes us better."

It's also why Baker is buried on the depth chart behind seniors Chris Early, Jahmal Burroughs and sophomore Zaccheus Mason.

"I think I did get better last year," Baker said. "My job is go hard and continue to make the team better. I have to make it as hard on them as possible, which makes them and myself better."

Tip-ins

Backup point guard Dontay Hampton is still hobbled by an injury to his left calf suffered a week ago in the exhibition game. He did not play in the Mocs' scrimmage Saturday at Virginia Tech and spent most of Monday's practice on a stationary bike.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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