ASHEVILLE, N.C. — David Blackburn spent part of Sunday afternoon watching the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball dismantle Elon 77-44.
He'd already spent most of the weekend talking with administrators from around the league, watched the Southern Conference operate two basketball tournaments at the same.
And he met with the fans about town, in the hotel and while seated in the U.S. Cellular.
The feedback, despite the men's team losing on Saturday 62-55 to Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals, seemed uplifting to the first-year athletics director.
"They've been real positive about both the men's and women's programs," Blackburn said. "On the men's side, they feel that we're about to climb the mountain and get to the top. I didn't know this, but this is the most excited they've been in the last couple of years, and I hear that a lot."
Under first-year coach Will Wade the Mocs flipped their record from 13-19 last season to 18-14 this year and earned the No. 2 seed behind Davidson for the SoCon tournament. They were the preseason pick to finish seventh.
UTC also saw a 19.5 percent increase in attendance from an average of 2,788 to 3,895 including a crowd of 6,648 against UNCG which was the largest since Stephen Curry and Davidson appeared in McKenzie Arena.
"There's hope for the future with Will, the kids and the staff," Blackburn said. "I think the future looks very bright. We are just starting.
"I feel real good about where our men can be in the next two or three years."
Wade had plans to continue the progression immediately after the Mocs surrendered a nine-point lead in the most pressure-packed they played all season.
UTC led by nine with 14 minutes, 20 seconds to play. They were up one with five minutes to play. But GSU switched to a 2-3 zone and its veteran backcourt made difficult shots while UTC couldn't score from beyond the arc.
The Mocs shot 4-of-20 from the 3-point line including 3-of-5 night from Zaccheus Mason -- the lone senior -- who led UTC with 21 points.
"Tre Bussey made some big shots down to the end," Mason said. "He made plays for his team. They made plays, and it's sickening."
Wade's plans are building off the success of the season. As well as UTC's deficiencies which seemed to be different in each game.
"We really didn't have a calling-card," Wade said. "We didn't have one thing that we could depend on night in and night out. Sometimes we shot it well, some nights we defended well, some nights we rebounded well.
"That was challenging for me as a coach. We need to get a calling-card. That needs to be our defense, rebounding and we need to get better shooting the ball."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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 ...