published Friday, October 28th, 2011

Shulman rekindles ‘Fire’ defense for Mocs

The “Fire” is burning again.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshman Lance Stokes saw “FIRE” written on the white board in the basketball Mocs’ meeting room and became excited.

“I thought it was some type of aggressive full-court trap that we’d have, and I’d love to get out and run,” Stokes said. “Then I found out that I’d have to be running back and forth the whole time.”

Stokes’ guess at a trapping defense is half right. FIRE is a half-court trap used when the ball goes into the post. A defender doubles-down from the top and everybody else goes into a zone until the ball is shot or passed out.

It’s not easy to play, which is one reason most teams don’t run it. Another is that it entices opponents to fire up 3-pointers, and the Southern Conference has been loaded with skilled shooters for a decade or more.

“Anything almost right in that defense is wrong,” UTC coach John Shulman said. “It is a very precise defense, and if you’re not on top of it, then you give up 3s and everybody freaks out.

“This is not a defense where you’re supposed to give up 3s. But when you’re not as alert and precise, you can’t live in it.”

Shulman didn’t call for Fire as much last year as in previous seasons. But he also had 7-foot-1 Jeremy Saffore and 6-8 DeAntre Jefferson, who were able to defend centers one-on-one.

“We don’t have a big beast in there at a 5 and defensively and on the glass that can hurt you, so ‘Fire’ protects our big guys,” Shulman said. “As you’re looking to playing Indiana and Butler, if you can learn it, it’s best to turn it on and off, and in some games you’ll need it more than others.”

The Mocs just have an abundance of power forwards who will play center. Those include Chris Early, who began his UTC career as a wing.

“It’s a refresher for me, but most of our new guys picked it up quicker than I thought they would,” Early said. “I feel like we won’t Fire that much and that coach trusts us and our ability to guard, but if we get in trouble, Fire is something we can fall back on if we need it.”

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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