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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / UTC's A.J. Caldwell dribbles during a home game against Cumberland University last Dec. 29. Caldwell, who will be a redshirt junior in the 2020-21 season, is going from walk-on to scholarship player for the Mocs.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach Lamont Paris told the Times Free Press Friday that Mocs guard A.J. Caldwell will receive a scholarship for the 2020-21 season, when the former walk-on will be a redshirt junior.

Caldwell played in all 33 games for the Mocs in 2019-20, averaging 4.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 20.9 minutes per game. The 6-foot-4, 201-pounder from Sarasota, Florida, shot 40.3% from 3-point range on 72 attempts as his role developed over the course of the season.

He had season highs of 12 points at Western Carolina on Dec. 3, 2019, seven rebounds against UNC Greensboro on Jan. 18 and seven assists in a win at Samford on Jan. 29.

"If you look at early in the year, A.J. was behind some guys," Paris said Friday. "He just kept improving and kept doing the things that are important in helping your team win: accepting a role, playing that role and relishing that role. You got to a point where he was confident and began making shots on top of it, but that was kind of the last piece."

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / UTC's A.J. Caldwell is surrounded by Mercer Bears as he brings down a rebound during a SoCon matchup on Feb. 22 at McKenzie Arena.

Paris also praised Caldwell's ability to defend and make decisions.

"He earned it," Paris said of Caldwell's new level. "He earned the opportunity to get a scholarship, and I was excited about it. It sends a good message: A.J. has worked hard; he's tried to do everything we've asked him to do; he's continued to grow and develop.

"I've always said that I don't care if the guy is on scholarship or not, if he can play and help us win, he's going to be in the game, and that's what A.J. was able to prove — that he could help us win games."

Caldwell, whose brother Dominic was a quarterback for the UTC football team in 2017-18, started his college basketball career at South Alabama before transferring after the 2017-18 school year.

With Caldwell's status promotion, the Mocs have two available scholarships for the 2020-21 season. In the past few weeks, Paris added two transfers to the program: Darius Banks from James Madison University and KC Hankton from Saint Louis University.

The Mocs will enter their fourth season with Paris in charge coming off a 20-13 campaign capped by a run to the Southern Conference tournament semifinals.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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