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Rich Kalina
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Editor's note: This is the second in a series of weekly features profiling newcomers on the UTC men's basketball team, leading up to the Nov. 6 season opener against Covenant.

The 2015-16 season will feature a number of firsts for Rich Kalina.

His first season as a college basketball player, which he expects to include his first point, rebound, assist, steal and block.

And for the first time, he'll be going by his first name — a short form of it, anyway.

The 7-foot-tall University of Tennessee at Chattanooga true freshman center made the slight name change after going by "Trey" his entire life. It wasn't a drastic change, as he was born Richard Roger Kalina III — rather a simple one, as the Mocs already have junior guard Tre' McLean and redshirt sophomore forward Traevis Graham on the roster.

Of course, then came the nicknames.

"It went from Richard to Richie to Big Rich to Little Richie," Kalina said.

There has been a number of transitions for Kalina. He was part of former head coach Will Wade's recruiting class, so Kalina had to wait out the process for a successor. While two of the four initial members of that class chose different destinations, Kalina — who initially had offers from La Salle, Appalachian State and Liberty — decided to sign with Matt McCall. So did guard/forward Zaqwaun Matthews.

Kalina's decision has given him the opportunity to train against 6-10 center Justin Tuoyo, the 2014-15 Southern Conference defensive player of the year, on a daily basis.

"Practicing against him is really helping my game out," Kalina said. "He's really good at post defense, and getting around him is really hard, but if I can get around him, no one else in the SoCon will be able to guard me."

His game is still evolving. He averaged 14 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.2 blocked shots per game as a senior at North Cobb Christian School in Marietta, earning a three-star rating and being labeled the No. 11 player in Georgia, but now he's attempting to learn a new system while trying to figure out where he can contribute immediately.

He should be able to bring some help on the defensive end of the floor, with his size and ability to block shots, while developing his offensive game for the new level. He's gained weight (up to 252 pounds now), which came from a hard offseason conditioning program spearheaded by new strength and conditioning coach Collin Crane, so he will be prepared for the banging in the paint from opponents.

"We had a program that tests your limits, and my limits were tested," Kalina said. "I had to learn to push through, because if you don't, you won't do well."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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