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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A few years ago, when Max Shulman was still a McCallie Blue Tornado and Ryan Montgomery a Central Purple Pounder, the two occasionally would spend the night at each other's homes after games.

But on Saturday afternoon inside Lee University's Walker Arena, the talk between the two old friends was far removed from girls, their favorite NBA players or television shows.

"Max kept saying, 'You're going to miss this shot,'" Montgomery said of his in-game conversations with Shulman, who now plays for his father, John, at Alabama-Huntsville.

"I kept saying, 'That's not happening.'"

At least on this day, Montgomery was dead-on with both his shot and his predictions. His 29 points, including 22 in the final half, were more than enough to lead Lee to a 65-60 Gulf South Conference victory over the Chargers. It was the Flames' 10th straight win and moved them to 7-1 in the conference, a half-game behind Montevallo heading into Saturday night. Now 12-3 overall, they should also move into the NABC coaches' Division II Top 25 this week.

"Ryan's always been a tremendous athlete," John Shulman said of the GSC's leading scorer. "He wasn't always a great basketball player. But he's made himself into the LeBron (James) of this league. We just couldn't do anything to slow him down today."

After a year of watching from the stands following his retirement from McCallie in 2018, Shulman is proving he hasn't slowed down as a coach, guiding UAH to a 13-3 record following Saturday's loss, including 5-3 in the Gulf South. The Chargers entered the weekend ranked No. 13 nationally.

"I'm part of a team again," said Coach Shulman, who guided UTC's Mocs to Division I NCAA bids in 2005 and 2009. "Being part of a team is the best. When I wasn't, it hurt."

Now it's back to hurting so good. In vintage UTC fashion, he discarded his sport coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves not five minutes into the game. He still gestures with his arms and hands more than a traffic cop in Times Square. He's probably already worn a groove in front of his team's bench back in Huntsville with his constant pacing.

Even so, Max says his father is calmer than he was in his UTC days, though equally passionate to his time at McCallie.

"It's been a really fun year," he said of playing for his father again.

As if to show it hasn't been too much fun, John said, when asked by a Huntsville radio announcer if he was proud of his team for slicing a 24-point second-half deficit to the final margin: "It's easy to give great effort when you're down 24 points. It's better to have great effort when you're tied."

Both these programs will almost certainly have ties to Chattanooga going forward. Fourth-year Lee head coach Bubba Smith can count four Scenic City area players on his roster beyond the senior Montgomery — Cleveland natives and Baylor School products Beyuan Hendricks and Lorenzo White, former Brainerd standout Kentrell Evans and LaFayette's Alex Kelehear.

Not only is Shulman reunited with Max, a redshirt sophomore, but Henley Edge, another redshirt sophomore from McCallie, is also on the Chargers squad.

Asked if this could be the start of an intense rivalry between the two programs, Smith downplayed the possibility.

"This isn't personal," he said. "We're just two defensive coaches who want to guard and defend."

But it always will be somewhat personal for the emotional Shulman. More than 20 friends from Chattanooga attended Saturday's game, including several McCallie alumni and two former Mocs who didn't play for Shulman — Shane Neal and Chris Behrends — but have long been his friends.

"It's disappointing to have all these people come out to see me and we lose," he said. "I love all these folks."

Forty-five minutes after the game ended, Montgomery walked back onto the court to spend a few minutes with Coach Shulman.

"I'm so proud of you and the player you've become," said John, pulling the LeBron of the Gulf South close. "I love you. Maybe not today. But I love you."

As he left the gym to drive home with Amy and his youngest son, John Carter, someone asked Shulman how he's changed as a coach over the years.

"As you get older, you hope you get better," he said. "That's part of the journey. We're 13-3, so I don't think we'll throw in the towel just yet."

Because, win or lose, that's what being a part of a team is all about.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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