UTC freshmen get some work

UTC freshmen get some work

January 17th, 2012 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC coach John Shulman

UTC coach John Shulman

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

John Shulman has relied on experienced players so much that he's never had one named to the Southern Conference all-freshman basketball team.

He's following the same pattern in his eighth season as head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga -- but with a twist.

Reserve guard Ronrico White has played in every game this season, although his minutes have declined since a return to SoCon play. But reserve center Jared Bryant has been playing more, and wing Lance Stokes started three times when Omar Wattad was injured.

"It's not Rico doing anything bad; it's how the season progresses. You just don't know," Shulman said Sunday, before giving his team Monday off. "Conference play is different, and you shorten your bench."

Alphonso Pugh was the last Moc named to the all-freshman team. That was in 2002 under former coach Jeff Lebo, and Pugh helped win the 2005 SoCon championship ring under Shulman.

"I like playing a lot of people," Shulman said. "You can't make everybody happy. You have to do what's best for our team.

"Our freshmen are going to be great players."

White began the season with a flurry. He displayed maturity beyond a typical freshman and became a sharpshooter on 3-pointers from the corner. He helped send the Mocs (9-10, 3-3) to double-overtime at College of Charleston with 11 points.

He hasn't scored more than five points since the team returned from its holiday break, yet he prepares for each game as if he'll play 30 minutes and score 15 points. For the entire season, White has averaged 13.7 minutes and 3.9 points per game.

Only Nicchaeus Doaks and Khalil Hartwell averaged more than 10 minutes per game as freshmen in Shulman's tenure. Ricky Taylor averaged less than eight in his 18 games his first year.

"I just always have to be ready, because you never know what's going to happen," White said. "The SoCon is a physical conference. My brother [former Charleston guard Tony White Jr.] told me that. When I'm in, I try to help my teammates as much as possible."

White has lost some playing time to junior guard Dontay Hampton, a defensive standout who has risen to the role of sixth man and first guard off the bench. White played only three minutes in each of the last two games.

"Ricky Taylor is playing really good basketball now and playing better defense," Shulman said. "Where does anybody fit in there? [Hampton] is the one who fits in there."

Stokes is the only UTC freshman to start more than one game. Bryant started against Hiwassee. Stokes began games against Hiwassee, Appalachian State and Wofford due to Wattad injuries, but he's played in only 12 games and for a total of 84 minutes.

Bryant knows his role. He's not the star. He gives Drazen Zlovaric a breather and throws his weight around against opposing post players. And he's supposed to rebound. He knows that, and he's comfortable in that role.

"There have been some tough points, but what freshman doesn't have hard points?" Bryant said. "It's a difficult transition. But it's become a lot easier to me.

"The whole game is a lot easier than it was the first couple weeks."

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