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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ UTC's David Jean-Baptiste (3) drives to the basket. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs hosted the Furman University Paladins in Mens Southern Conference Basketball at McKenzie Arena on January 8, 2020.

Any college basketball coach worth the whistle around his or her neck can speak ad nauseam concerning the X's and O's of the sport. You know, things like the principles of the 2-3 zone, ball-screen switch protocols, pick-and-rolls, etc.

The successful coaches know when to make substitutions, when to put on a full-court press and how to handle a media room as well as they do a recruit's living room.

Yet ask any of them how to develop leadership among their student-athletes and the nearly consensus answer explains in part why the profession is so difficult.

Leadership, it seems, can't be manufactured, and in many cases it is impossible to project in the recruiting process. Find a good leader and a basketball team becomes a more complete unit. Lack one and it can fall apart.

Lamont Paris has seen both sides of that coin. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach has lamented the absence of a true leader on his first two UTC teams.

"When there is no leadership on a team, you can tell," Paris said. "That doesn't mean you can't win basketball games or have a good season. But every team is going to go through adversity, so how does that team handle it? We haven't done a good job in the first two years of handling it. When things went bad we often just panicked."

For the 2019-20 Mocs, who are, after Saturday's lopsided win over Samford, 11-6 this season after winning a combined 22 games the previous two, the days of panic appear to be over. To Paris, it's no coincidence the turnaround has coincided with the emergence of a true leader.

UTC junior David Jean-Baptiste is hardly the rah-rah, slap-your-teammate-on-the-butt type. He won't chew anybody out (at least in public), and he doesn't pretend to be a coach on the floor. "Dave," as he's called by his teammates, has ascended to the leader's role out of pure accident.

Maybe accident isn't the proper way to describe it.

"People are just drawn to Dave," Paris said after a recent practice. "His energy and overall spirit have been phenomenal. I don't know what's going on, but it's trickled down to some other people and it's helped other guys on the team as well.

"It's affecting his overall play, and it's permeating throughout the team. He's inspiring some other guys, even guilting them with his energy. It's been so noticeable, and it's affected every aspect of his basketball game in a positive way."

Jean-Baptiste's numbers are solid — 13.4 points a game, 31 made 3-pointers on 37% shooting, 3.5 rebounds, nearly three assists per game, a team-best 15 steals and a team-high 31 minutes per game. He's either led the team in scoring or tied for scoring honors in six games and has reached double figures in 13 of the 17 games. He easily shifts from shooting guard when Maurice Commander is on the court to point guard when Jonathan Scott or A.J. Caldwell enter.

The sunny disposition isn't the only constant in the Miami resident's new role. Once a game starts Jean-Baptiste may smile a lot and often can be seen celebrating a teammate's nice play, but when it comes to a game plan it's pretty simple.

"Mike Tyson," he smiled before explaining. "One of the biggest things in the offseason I wanted to correct was not being aggressive. I think last year I would wait the game out and see how it was going. Now, why wait? Attack them and don't let them attack you, like Mike Tyson.

"Coach is always saying let's go out and Mike Tyson them. I try to use that to my individual game and always put pressure on their defense."

Commander has had a great view of Jean-Baptiste's ascension from good complementary player to team leader, and he agrees that DJB's aggressiveness has been the catalyst.

"Dave stays in attack mode on both ends," the sophomore said. "When the shot clock gets old he's going to be aggressive. He doesn't just wait for something to happen."

There's a fine line between being aggressive and losing control and an even finer line that divides being aggressive for selfish reasons and doing it for the benefit of others. That, says Paris, is a rare attribute for a basketball player.

"When Dave's aggressive, he's unselfish and he's a good decision maker," Paris said. "I'm not comparing Dave to LeBron James, but I've always said about LeBron that he's always let the right play dictate his actions. Always.

"Oftentimes it's him scoring, but he doesn't have his mind made up. That's what Dave has been doing. He's scoring at times and he's creating for others at times, and it's almost always the right decision. He's really taken his game to a new level."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22

 

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