If Lamont Paris had a wish going into his fifth season as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach, it would consist of one thing.
A consistent roster.
Paris has had a history of roster influx, but that hasn't come until the end of the season with transfers. For a multitude of reasons, the Mocs' 2020-21 roster never had any level of fluidity to it. Playing through a pandemic, the Mocs were ravaged with roster issues, sometimes leaving the team with hardly enough quality players to compete in games. The issues didn't really affect the starting lineup until the season finale, a 63-53 loss to East Tennessee State in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament, but it affected the depth for nearly the entire season.
"When depth really hurts you is if a guy isn't playing well or having a tough time getting a stop, you have a difficult time subbing him out," Paris said after a home loss against Wofford on Jan. 16. "That's when a lack of depth hurts you the most."
In some cases, Paris may not have had the confidence in the players on the roster. In others, he didn't have the bodies to begin with. Only three players — senior forward Stefan Kenic, junior guard A.J. Caldwell and freshman wing Jamaal Walker — played in all 26 games. Sophomore guard Malachi Smith played 25, having to miss the ETSU game due to contact tracing. Everyone else missed at least three.
So how wild were the roster issues in 2020-21? Here's a timeline of events that happened, dating back to the summer:
TIMELINE OF THE MOCS' SEASON
July 31 – It certainly affected the season when Ramon Vila announced on Instagram that he would remain in Spain and pursue a professional career. The 6-foot-8 would-be senior forward and 2019-20 All-SoCon performer was expected to be the Mocs' primary inside presence.
Preseason – The coaching staff was expecting sophomore Grant Ledford to be productive in his second season, but the 6-5 forward — a potential starer — was injured in practice and spent half the season in a walking boot.
Nov. 25 – Promising sophomore forward Prosper Obidiebube was injured in the season-opening win over Division II Lander.
Nov. 30 – Junior forward Mark Tikhonenko was scoreless in 11 minutes in a 62-54 win at Tennessee Tech. He would leave the country shortly after due to visa issues and not be able to return.
Dec. 10 – David Jean-Baptiste goes into the transfer portal, 24 hours after going over the 1,000-point mark in a win over Bellarmine.
Dec. 16 – The same day K.C. Hankton and Darius Banks are cleared by NCAA, Hankton scores 16 points in 22 minutes in a 69-66 win over UNC Asheville.
Dec. 22 – The team finished off a 9-0 non-conference start with 66-63 win over Tennessee State.
Dec. 30 – Jean-Baptiste returns to the program, but valuable and versatile wing Trey Doomes opts out.
Jan. 9 – Hankton is forced to sit with an injury, and the team dressed six scholarship players for three consecutive games, dropping games at VMI and The Citadel.
Jan. 13 – Banks makes his debut, scoring 10 points in 36 minutes in an 84-79 win over Mercer.
Jan. 18 – Walker goes on scholarship, having averaged 6.9 points per game to that point.
Jan. 20 – Hankton returns to the lineup, scoring six points and grabbing seven rebounds in a road win at Samford.
Jan. 26 – The Mocs have games at ETSU and Furman canceled due to COVID. The rescheduled ETSU game was won 67-65 on a late A.J. Caldwell 3-pointer on Feb. 6, but the Mocs don't get a chance to play at Furman, who ended the nine-game win streak to start the season with a 77-73 win in Chattanooga on Dec. 30.
Feb. 10 – Josh Ayeni returns to the lineup after missing three games due to an undisclosed reason.
Feb. 17 – The Mocs win their sixth straight game, going on a 12-0 run to force OT and a 12-0 run to pull away in OT.
Mar. 5 — Prior to SoCon quarterfinal against ETSU, the Mocs find out they would be without Banks due to COVID and Smith due to contact tracing
Mar. 6 — The short-handed Mocs battle, but run out of gas in the 10-point loss to the Bucs
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.