published Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

No more Dr Pepper for Mocs; UTC won't hold annual holiday basketball tournament

GREAT RUN

UTC had an incredible record in the Dr Pepper Classic, with 18 titles in the tournament’s 24-year history.

Year -- Winner

• 1990 -- UTC

• 1991 -- UTC

• 1992 -- UTC

• 1993 -- UTC

• 1994 -- UTC

• 1995 -- UTC

• 1996 -- Canisius

• 1997 -- UNCG

• 1998 -- UTC

• 1999 -- Youngstown State

• 2000 -- UTC

• 2001 -- UTC

• 2002 -- UTC

• 2003 -- La Salle

• 2004 -- Birm.-Southern

• 2005 -- UTC

• 2006 -- Colorado State

• 2007 -- Wright State

• 2008 -- UTC

• 2009 -- UTC

• 2010 -- Georgia State

• 2011 -- UTC

• 2012 -- UTC

• 2013 -- UTC

  • photo
    UTC's Ronrico White (11) dribbles around Killian Cato of Maine last December in what may have been the last Dr Pepper Classic game at McKenzie Arena.
    Photo by Maura Friedman /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball tradition has been laid to rest.

The Dr Pepper Classic has died.

UTC will not hold the annual holiday tournament this year for the first time since its inception in 1990.

"We had four teams for it, then one team backed out and then another backed out after that," said UTC coach Will Wade, who will begin his second season this fall. "It left us in a lurch. We couldn't find teams to fill it because teams wanted a huge money guarantee and we're not able to provide that."

Wade said the Dr Pepper Classic and Santa Clara's Cable Car Classic were the last two remaining four-team NCAA men's basketball tournaments this past season.

"We can't do huge guarantees," Wade said. "These things are phasing out and a thing of the past. It puts us in a scheduling bind and big-time financial lurch as well.

"I don't see us restarting it while we're here."

The Dr Pepper Classic began on Dec. 28, 1990, with the Mocs beating San Francisco 92-79 in the first round, then defeating UC Irvine 88-68 in the championship game.

Brandon Born watched both of those games from the UTC bench, then went on to play in eight Dr Pepper Classic games -- all victories for UTC.

"A game that jumps out to me is when we beat Auburn in 1991," said Born, who has eight season tickets behind the opposing bench. "It was the first time I saw a big-time SEC school come to McKenzie Arena, and I remember [Keith] Nelson was manhandling their post guys. It was a big win for the program at the time."

UTC went 48-8 in the tournament, won 16 of the 24 championships and lost just once in the opening round. That came in 1997 to UNC Greensboro before the Spartans joined the Southern Conference.

"We understand what Coach Wade is doing," said Coca-Cola sales center manager Brad McCauley. "Any time that we can associate with UTC, in whatever form -- be it athletics or the classroom -- we're proud to do so.

"Even though the Dr Pepper won't be played this year, we're looking at different avenues to sponsor and support everything blue and gold."

The Dr Pepper Classic signified the unofficial start to true basketball season. Only a handful of football bowl games were left to be played. The Christmas holiday was a few days in the rearview mirror. It signified that the Southern Conference season was about to start.

"It was a mini-tournament with a SoCon tournament atmosphere, and it was a good gauge to see where you were at," said Born, who is tied for No. 2 on UTC's Division I career scoring list. "I always enjoyed playing in them. We never lost.

"I wish they would have changed the NCAA tournament to the Dr Pepper Classic."

But the Classic will not continue.

UTC will release its full 2014-15 men's basketball schedule later this month. Wade confirmed Monday that UTC will host Georgia, Alabama-Birmingham and two non-Division I teams and play at Middle Tennessee State, which had been part of this year's Dr Pepper Classic.

"We're waiting for some ink to dry on contracts before we release the full schedule," Wade said. "We have a couple quirky things that we're doing. Everything is verbally agreed upon and contracts are in the mail. It's a matter of letting everything run its course."

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