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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / UTC men's basketball coach Lamont Paris, right, reached out to his team's players in the wake of protests regarding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach Lamont Paris was like a lot of people this past weekend, watching protests throughout the country that turned from peaceful to violent during the aftermath of the senseless death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Then he quickly thought of his players who are scattered across the nation, and he picked up his phone.

"I've touched base with all of them, and I've told them that there are some people out there with really good intentions and there are some others with some really sinister motivations," Paris said Monday afternoon, "and it can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference between those two. I've told our guys to stay focused on what they have coming up and what their goals are and what their next steps are.

"I'm trying to support them from afar, and I just want them to be safe and careful about who they're around."

UTC won 20 games this past season, but that now seems distant after the coronavirus outbreak and the recent unrest nationally. Four of his Mocs players have remained in Chattanooga amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and he said a fifth is scheduled to arrive this week.

There have been other players in Miami, Memphis and St. Louis in recent days, with Paris admitting his pride in how they've carried themselves to this point.

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Lamont Paris is preparing for his fourth season as men's basketball coach at UTC.

"Our guys are pretty mature and have handled it well and have families who are helping guide them," Paris said. "These guys are still kids. Some of them are in their 20s, but 20 is the new 15 in our society. I don't mean that in a negative way. They're just young. They have feelings and emotions, so you try and stay in contact with them.

"Our players get that they're slightly different and that this may not be the best thing for them to be involved with."

Paris was the age of his younger UTC players when the Rodney King beating in 1991 and the Los Angeles police officer acquittals in 1992 resulted in protests and rioting. This country has elected a black president for two terms since then, and Paris recognizes he has a mentoring job that would not have been offered generations ago.

"We've made a lot of progress in a lot of areas," Paris said, "but there is no question that we have to continue to improve in that regard in a major way."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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