Chattanooga’s Zaccheus Mason tries to block a shot during Tuesday’s game against East Tennessee State University.Photo by Photo: Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press
Will Wade attended Clemson with the career goal of becoming a high school history teacher and a high school basketball coach.
He figured on handing out grades during the day and coaching fundamentals of the game in the evening.
Then coaching the game became the most important part of his life, with a career track that took him from Clemson to Harvard to VCU -- then to his first head-coaching job at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for this season.
Wade's report-card for the Mocs is not final.
"I don't give grades, although I'm a former teacher," he said after UTC ended its season Tuesday with a 79-66 loss at East Tennessee State in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. "As critical as I am about our team and what we've done, I'm more critical of myself. I have pages of notes about what we're going to do and how I'm going to change."
But upon hearing that players -- including senior captain Zaccheus Mason, gave the UTC season a grade of B -- Wade buckled and agreed with their assessment of the season.
"A B-grade is probably fair," he said, in a hallway of the MiniDome after Big Ten referee Mike Eades interrupted questions to state that Chattanooga has a great coach in Wade.
Getting a B in most schools equates to above-average. UTC finished its season with an 18-15 overall record and 12-4 in the Southern Conference. It had a 10-game winning streak from its return from Christmas break until a Jan. 31 thumping at Davidson.
UTC then finished its season with a 3-6 record including a quarter-final exit from the SoCon tournament and a first-round exit in the CIT, which was the Mocs' first post-season game since the NCAA tournament in 2009.
"I would give the season a C-plus or B-minus because we fell short in the [SoCon] Tournament," said Mason, who earned All-SoCon honors from coaches and media as well as SoCon defensive player of the year from coaches.
"Actually, I would give it a B. We finished second in the conference," Mason said. "We put ourselves in a great situation. We played hard, we played together and I enjoyed it."
Junior Martynas Bareika -- a break-out player who shined during Mason's two-game absence and earned more playing time throughout the season-- elevated UTC's grade from a C+ to a B+ in about 20 seconds.
"I thought it was a pretty good season, but the end wasn't what everybody hoped," Bareika said. "We had just switched coaches and everything is new.
"I can't wait for next year, my senior year."
Mason's career path will take him toward a professional basketball career. He's one of 64 seniors across the country invited to the Portsmouth Invitation where a scout from every NBA team is expected to attend.
Mindaugas Katelynas, who helped lead UTC to the 2005 SoCon championship, is the last UTC player to attend and he has made a career of playing basketball in Europe.
"We're thrilled for him," Wade said. "He's got a great pro career ahead of him. Z has some decisions to make in the coming weeks that we'll certainly help him with. We love him, appreciate him and he's meant a lot to our program."
But he won't be there next year.
Other players will have to fill his void.
And the coaching staff, Wade admitted, will have to do a better job in order for the Mocs to reach their ultimate post-season goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.
"There's all sorts of stuff that I'm going to do better," Wade said. "We had to take some baby-steps. We couldn't go as hard or as full-go on some things as I wanted.
"We'll take those steps, and we'll be better."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...