The learning curve for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball freshmen has been more of a steep ascent. Some have had to learn quickly, while others have been given the opportunity to develop gradually.
And they've loved it all.
The five-player class has played an important role for the 26-3 Mocs this season, helping them to their second consecutive undefeated regular season in Southern Conference play and the top seed in the league tournament this week in Asheville, N.C. Saturday at noon, they will face the winner between Wofford and Georgia Southern.
Each UTC freshman has played an important role in the process. Chelsey Shumpert has started since Dec. 1 against Colorado State, and Aryanna Gilbert joined the tipoff lineup the following game against Jacksonville State.
Jasmine Joyner has earned minutes at the center position and averaged three blocks per game in the month of February, while Moses Johnson and Whitney Hartlage also have played valuable minutes along the way.
UTC coach Jim Foster continually praises the group and inserted them together to play the final three minutes in Sunday's game against UNC Greensboro. They mesh well together, as Shumpert is a natural point guard, Hartlage is a spot-up shooter, Johnson and Gilbert are slashers who provide a number of assets on both ends of the court and Joyner is the interior presence.
"I think I've learned a lot as a player, especially from some of the seniors," Gilbert said. "I knew coming in that we could be pretty good, but I didn't really expect this. I'm just hoping that we can carry this momentum into the tournament."
They have been able to learn under a solid group of experienced players. Senior Taylor Hall's presence has helped Shumpert and sophomore Alicia Payne feel their way into the point guard positions. Fifth-year seniors Ashlen Dewart and Faith Dupree have helped develop Joyner.
"It's been a great experience," Shumpert said. "Not many freshmen get an opportunity to play with great seniors, and I've learned so much from how they do things and from how much they've taught us. Taylor has always been there; not many people know she helps me a lot on the court.
"There aren't many upperclassmen that would do that."
The Mocs have their usual off Tuesday. They will have a 7 a.m. practice Wednesday and leave Thursday afternoon for Asheville.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.