published Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Chattanooga Mocs sophomores have senior roles

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman has four players on the roster listed as sophomores.

Yet they have responsibilities that usually go to seniors.

After all, there are only three players with less eligibility remaining than Ronrico White, Lance Stokes, Jared Bryant and Martynas Bareika.

"This has never happened before, and it's something that I've never dealt with," Shulman said. "This is a ride that I've never been on. There are going to be good parts of the ride and unique parts of the ride.

"There will be no excuses on age. You can be an old tough guy or a softy, or a young tough guy or softy. So let's all be tough."

It's pretty typical for most college athletes to have their biggest growth between their freshman and sophomore seasons, with steady improvement from there.

This UTC sophomore bunch, in a way, skipped a few grades and have responsibilities typically of upperclassmen. They will play much more important roles this year than they did last season as freshmen on a team stacked with four senior starters.

"We had a lot of playmakers on the team, and it wasn't my job to go in and get my game off," Stokes said. "Last year I followed. Coach has been saying that the sophomores are veterans and that we have to teach and be ready to lead these young guys."

White is a captain. No other sophomore in Shulman's previous seven seasons has been a Mocs captain.

"Last year we came in trying to find a role and help out the team here and there," White said. "Now I feel like we have to carry a majority of the load to help the young guys carry the load. Just a year ago I was getting used to street names around town, and now I'm a captain and a leader helping lead this team to the [Southern Conference] tournament."

White played in all 32 games last season, averaged 13.8 minutes and five points per game playing shooting guard. His new responsibilities, in addition to basic leadership, include playing point guard.

Based on freshman Farad Cobb's readiness, White could start at the point Monday when UTC opens its season against Tennessee Temple.

Actually, three sophomores could start against the Crusaders -- White, Martynas Bareika and Stokes -- and it wouldn't be a surprise. That's unlikely, but it could happen at some point this season as the young team evolves week by week and game to game.

It is likely that all four sophomores, with Bryant playing center, will be on the floor at the same time sometime soon.

"Three of them played meaningful minutes, so they have huge responsibility this year," Shulman said. "They don't have a choice."

The sophomores combined to start eight games last season. White, Stokes and Bryant played in at least 25 games and played some meaningful minutes. None of them averaged more than five points, and only White and Bryant averaged more than 10 minutes per game on the disappointing senior-laden squad of 2011-12.

"We lost a lot of seniors, five, and now we have a lot of freshmen, so we kind of feel like old guys," Bareika said. "It doesn't matter if we're seniors or sophomores. We have to lead the team."

Tip-ins

Redshirt junior center Sam Watson did not attend practice Tuesday because of an illness that also kept him out of Saturday's closed scrimmage at Tennessee Tech. Walk-on junior forward Drew Baker will be out for at least two weeks after getting his left knee drained Monday. He underwent minor knee surgery in September and has practiced little during the preseason.

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