It feels like the entire town has been on the Wade Wagon from the start. Are we still there?
It had been incredibly fun, and it was a fast and easy ride as coach Will Wade's Mocs were winning games and winning over the hearts of a doubtful fan base that had turned jaded and bitter by a run of extended disappointment. Is that still there?
I have been impressed from day one with this first-year University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach who looks like a first-year college student. His basketball knowledge in general and what he wants to accomplish in particular are evident and impressive and well-organized. It was apparent from the first time we spoke with him.
As for Wade the coach, well, he is young, but the shortcomings that come with that have been more than met and compensated by his energy. And that energy has been infectious -- to the team, the program and the community. Maybe that would have happened in some measure because of a new coach, regardless of whom UTC hired, but the level to which the energy has crested and the quickness with which it has risen is because of Wade the coach and Wade the person.
Does that change because the Mocs went to Davidson and got spanked like a petulant child? Absolutely not.
"I think we'll respond well. It's been a trademark of our team," Wade told our paper's David Uchiyama on Friday, several hours after the 94-51 loss to the Wildcats. "Last night was a blip in the road. We have to respond like we've done all year."
Expecting anything less is a fool's folly, considering Wade has maximized the talent that was left and has meshed it into a SoCon-leading group despite not having the pieces to run his desired sets. That, friends, is coaching at a graduate level.
Anyone can have success in perfect conditions. Winning in an ideal setting could be described as being good, or it could simply be good fortune. Having success in random scenarios is the mark of skill, and having high-level success in what can be viewed as unknown and less-than-desirable circumstances is talent. Period.
"We could never settle into the flow of the game," Wade said of the Davidson loss. "It was as simple as that. We did things that were uncharacteristic of us on offense. We didn't follow the scouting report defensively. We got a little shook, and we tried to make too many quick plays. We strayed from what made us good for the first eight games."
Yes, Davidson spanked the hot-shot Mocs. It was bound to happen at some point, considering so many things went right for a glorious month that when they turned, they were going to roll downhill quickly. It happens, and you move on.
"We lost on the road to a really good team. We got beat," Wade told Uchiyama. "We're coming home to play Furman. We don't have a lot of time to get upset. We're not going to spend a lot of time worrying about last night. It is what it is. I thought we prepared pretty well. I thought we were going to play pretty well."
In truth, this is another chance to witness and watch Wade as the leader of the program, because, again, having success in easy settings is fine. Having success amid adversity is finding talent.
In that regard, how Wade manages this moment -- his demeanor, his focus on the next step rather than the previous misstep while still learning from the stumble that was the Davidson debacle -- will be telling. And here's an expectation that he will clear this hurdle as easily as the previous ones put before him.
Think back to the high-water days of former UTC coach Mack McCarthy when the Mocs were rolling. Coach Mack was great in the moment and over the long haul. He managed the game and knew each game was only a brief stop on the seasonlong journey of improvement.
We see that in Coach Wade: His pursuit of playing well is not measured by scores in January or a collapse in Carolina.
For those on the outside, we know very little about building a college basketball program. But we do know something about recognizing someone who has the skills to craft a successful college basketball program, and we see it almost every way in Will Wade. Tonight will be another chance to see it in McKenzie Arena.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp. You can listen to Greeson and David Paschall on "Press Row" every Monday-Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on ESPN 105.1 FM and at timesfreepress.com.