UTC-ETSU game stirs memories for Taylor, English as rivalry with Bucs gets early resumption

UTC-ETSU game stirs memories for Taylor, English as rivalry with Bucs gets early resumption

March 16th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC men's basketball coach Will Wade, left, and Johnny Taylor speak to the media at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in this file photo.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Johnny Taylor wears a coat and tie to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball games because he's a student assistant coach finishing his degree.

But if he could don his old blue-and-gold No. 23 jersey for one more game -- the one he sported from 1995 to '97 -- it would be for this Tuesday night.

The Mocs (18-14) will rekindle an old rivalry when they play at East Tennessee State (18-15) on Tuesday in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

"That's an old throwback game," Taylor said. "It's one of those rivalries like the old Lakers-Celtics rivalries. It's good competition. But at the same time you want to beat them.

"It's a game you'd get up for."

The Mocs and Bucs were kings of the SoCon during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. As current coach Will Wade noted, they weren't playing for last place when they met.

"No disrespect to them, but the years I was here, they had a solid team but they weren't quite as formidable as they had been in previous years," Taylor said. "It wasn't knock-your-teeth-out like when Mister [Keith] Jennings was around. We had a good team and we did what we were supposed to."

In fact, the Mocs and Bucs combined to win 11 regular-season SoCon championships, 12 division championships and 12 tournament championships in the 28 years that both teams were in the SoCon until ETSU left after the 2005 season.

"I wouldn't call it a blood feud," Taylor said. "But it's a rivalry that's been around for awhile."

The timeline for renewing the series has been escalated due to the CIT. The Bucs will be welcomed back to the SoCon starting this summer along with Mercer and Virginia Military Institute to give the SoCon 10 basketball-playing members.

Instead of waiting until January 2015, UTC and ETSU will meet again Tuesday -- with Taylor on the sideline instead of in the game.

"It's a good thing with them coming back, and it should be a good preview of what's to come for years down the line," he said. "With Davidson leaving, everybody might not be as angry in a rivalry, but with ETSU, I'm sure everybody is getting geared up again."

Rodney English, who recently was named head coach at East Hamilton High School, hadn't heard the news as of Friday afternoon that his ETSU team would be facing the Mocs again so soon.

"That explains why Calvin [Talford] has called me 14 times today," said English, who played at ETSU from 1990 to '92. "What a way to give people a taste of what's coming back."

English has been on both sides of the rivalry. He helped the Bucs win four games against UTC as a player and then joined the coaching staff of former UTC coach John Shulman, who also attended ETSU.

English will be pulling for the blue-and-white on Tuesday -- even though he cannot attend the game -- instead of the blue-and-gold.

"I have no loyalties to UTC other than I worked there for my fellow Bucs man Coach Shulman," English said. "With my loyalty, my love -- my dinner money, I'd have put it on ETSU."

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