The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's freshman men's basketball players already have had hundreds of little first-time experiences and dozens of important first-time experiences since starting practice on Oct. 15.
They'll get another big first today.
The Mocs open their Southern Conference season tonight at 7:30 in McKenzie Arena as the nightcap of a doubleheader with the Lady Mocs.
It's the first conference game for the four rookies in UTC's rotation and just the 19th SoCon game for the three sophomores expected to play.
"Every game is a new game and fresh start for us to prove ourselves," freshman point guard Farad Cobb said. "Being that it's Davidson, and it's our first conference game, I think we can make a statement. I know they have high expectations for their season."
Playing on Dec. 1 against the perceived best team in the league, which already has toppled Vanderbilt and West Virginia, is not the easiest start to a SoCon season.
The result will have repercussions well into March when the league tournament seeds are set.
"Conference game are like medicine, and this is like a Z-Pak where you take a double dose on the first day," Mocs coach John Shulman said.
"They're special," he said of the visiting Wildcats. "They're great and we get them on the first night and we don't play them again. We get a double dose on the first night, and every other conference game is just one dose."
Conference games are where the coaches know the plays the opponent is going to run, like knowing a quarterback sneak is coming. The defense still has to stop it.
Yet Davidson coach Bob McKillop noticed differences in the current Mocs squad from the teams he's dominated over the last six years by going 11-1 against UTC.
"The difference is they're younger, they're mixing defenses the way he does and putting up a wall the way he does -- those are new things for the freshmen," McKillop said. "I think they've been pretty effective in picking it up."
McKillop pointed directly to UTC's effort at Kansas (a national power Davidson beat last year) earlier this season, when UTC led at halftime in Allen Fieldhouse as evidence that UTC is playing beyond its years.
"UTC [almost] caught Kansas, and I think it was the fact Chattanooga played very well," McKillop said. "They represented themselves and the Southern Conference incredibly well, and that was very early in the season."
And this is the first game of the conference season. The Mocs will play seven more games before facing another SoCon foe.
"We've done something new a million times already," freshman Gee McGhee said. "I look at it like I've already faced it already and like I'm familiar with everything, even though I'm not.
"SoCon games are big -- they're going to count -- but I'm not going to get nervous or stress about it."
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 ...