John Shulman's Mocs pumped for home opener

John Shulman's Mocs pumped for home opener

November 18th, 2011 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

Chattanooga head coach John Shulman talks from the sideline in first half action as the Butler Bulldogs defeated the Mocs 57-46 at Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University in Indianapolis Tuesday. Joe Vitti / The Star

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John Shulman is probable.

Well, that's what he would be designated on an NFL-like pregame injury list, which requires a status label for anybody who misses practice leading up to a game.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach missed the daily team meeting and practice Thursday because of illness.

But there's almost no way he'll miss the Mocs' 2011-12 home opener in McKenzie Arena tonight at 7 against Kennesaw State.

"ZERO!!!" is what he texted back when asked the percentage that he'll miss the game.

"He must be really sick to not be here now," said assistant coach Rick Cabrerra, stretching out the "ea" sound in "really," before helping lead the Mocs through their meeting and practice with the help of fellow assistants Brent Jolly and DeAntoine Beasley.

This is the first time the senior-laden Mocs will play in front of their home fans and their fellow students. It's their only chance for a first impression.

"We started 0-2 on the road, but we still feel positive about ourselves," senior forward Chris Early said. "We want to put on a show and make the fans want to come back - and put on a display of what this season is going to hold."

Indiana and Butler beat the Mocs 78-53 and 57-46 in well-known Hoosier State venues last Sunday and Tuesday. Butler's win was in a physical and defensive game - one that had former Ole Miss tight end Zaccheus Mason getting the urge to pancake-block a Butler forward in the paint.

UTC had chances to pull even or ahead in the second half until the Bulldogs scored on a loose-ball 3-pointer and went ahead by eight with 2:20 to go.

"We just came out and played well," Mocs forward Drazen Zlovaric said. "I feel we were on the same level if not better than Butler. Shots didn't go in."

Perhaps a familiar setting will help in earning UTC's first win of the season.

The Mocs earned their first win of last season on the road at Kennesaw State, 74-69. Walk-on Dontay Hampton forced KSU point guard Spencer Dixon to travel with 50 seconds left and the Owls down by two.

"Yeah, I had the game-winning stop," Hampton said. "Their point guard got in a rhythm toward the end and I stopped him. I got into him a little bit, forced him to go one way and cut him off."

KSU coach Lewis Preston has seen that play, and that game, only on video. Tony Ingle was the Owls' coach then.

Even without seeing that play, or that game, or anything else from that game one year ago, Preston has intimate knowledge of UTC. He played for VMI, then a Southern Conference member, from 1989 to '93.

"I've always had good memories of Chattanooga," Preston said, before being reminded that his teams went 3-9 against UTC in his career. "But we beat them in the tournament [in 1990]."

Preston said he and Shulman have had a good relationship for years. They also have programs on the same Division I level - residing in one-bid leagues - that are located about 90 minutes apart, which leads Preston to believe that KSU-UTC could become an annual nonconference rivalry.

With both teams beginning their seasons a a good distance away from home - KSU opened with losses at Wisconsin and Auburn - it would make sense in the future for this matchup to alternate sites each year and for it to be the home opener of the host school.

"Our programs are similar in what we're trying to get out of the nonconference schedule," Preston said. "Playing up gives you a chance to evaluate your team in one sense. It would be great to play somebody every year who is similar in style and on the same level."

The chances of an annual game happening are probable, and Shulman is even more probable to make tonight's matchup.