Lamont Paris knew he was getting a lot of depth and versatility when he essentially flipped the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball roster.
And he may have even more of both than he thought.
Seven new players are available to him this season, and all are officially on campus and have started summer workouts. The NCAA allows for four hours of individual workouts a week in the summer, and Paris and staff have taken full advantage of the time, getting the four incoming freshmen time to get acclimated to living away from home as well as learning drills the team works on during practice.
"This is a very important time for them," Paris said this week. "It's the one time they have basketball and nothing else. There's no class now, so they can commit to basketball: eating, sleeping and developing themselves physically. That's a critical time to lay the foundation for what that's going to look like; then when you introduce classes, more time constraints and more distractions that they've got, you've created a foundation of what they want to be about.
"This is a very important time for all the guys, particularly the guys who have never lived away from home."
Those would include point guard Donovann Toatley, combo guard Maurice Commander and forwards Kevin Easley and Keigan Kerby — all of whom have shown flashes of ability in workouts and pickup games since arriving on campus. In addition, graduate transfer center Thomas Smallwood, junior college transfer guard Jonathan Scott and juco forward Rod Johnson are on campus, and each has versatility that could help UTC improve on its 10-win total of last season.
Also on campus is South Alabama transfer A.J. Caldwell, who will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
"The guys we brought in, everyone top to bottom can help. Everyone can be a piece," said junior guard Jerry Johnson, who sat out last season after transferring from Fairfield. "It's not our motto, but we just have a 'next man up' mentality. We have depth at guard; we have bigs; we have forwards. We're not complete, but we're good so far."
Johnson and sophomore forward Ramon Vila will be available this season after doing their transfer time. Success for them and the rest of the team will depend in large part on what Commander and Toatley — along with sophomore David Jean-Baptiste, the most experienced returning Moc — show this season.
"Both have the aggression and the ability to make the right play," Johnson said. "It's going to be a process, but they've played on big stages and faced top competition, so I think they'll do well in this conference."
Paris wore a bit of a smile as he walked around this week. He wasn't ready to make any snap judgments but did admit he feels good about the roster the staff has put together. Because the players who return from last season provided only 11 percent of the scoring, many are going to have to step up, but Paris feels that can be almost anybody he has.
"I feel good about it, but in these workouts, what's it mean?" Paris said. "We've got to make these shots in a game, but seeing the abilities and versatility we have that I thought we had a great deal of, I think we may have more than I originally thought."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.