My favorite University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball story involving the Virginia Military Institute goes like this:
In the mid-1980s, when Mack McCarthy was roaming the Mocs sideline and Joe Cantafio was doing a similar good job coaching VMI’s Keydets with some dynamic guards in twins Ramon and Damon Williams, another corps member Scenic City media. tapped me on the shoulder one night at the Roundhouse.
“This Williams guy is killing UTC,” he said. “He already has 38 points.”
I quickly replied, “Which one?”
He replied, “What do you mean, ‘Which one?'”
I said, “Well, they’re two. They’re twins.”
“Oh,” he said. “No matter.”
In the past seven years, there has only been one Dan Earl at VMI. And while he certainly could have used the Williams twins in his first five seasons as Keydets coach, he took them to .500 or better overall the last two, posting .500 Southern Conference ratings at both the 2020-21 season and the 2021 season. -22 campaign just passed.
In one of the toughest mid-jobs imaginable, Earl not only made VMI competitive against all odds, last February he toppled the Mocs – en route to a regular season and SoCon tournament title sweep – at inside their Roundhouse, and not just by a point or two.
Without star big man Jake Stephens, who missed much of that Feb. 19 game through injury, VMI nonetheless prevailed 80-75 in a game rarely so close.
UTC introduces basketball coaches Dan Earl and Shawn Poppie
Said veteran Mocs winger AJ Caldwell on Wednesday, just after Earl was introduced as UTC’s new head coach after Lamont Paris’ jump to South Carolina: “They were a tough scout. They moved so well. They played so well together. good. Tough team to play.
That’s what everyone thinks about when discussing Earl’s coaching. They think of the attack, the 3-point shot and the spacing of the field. All things that often sell tickets, excitement, and entertainment, but don’t always add up to championships.
So, just after Earl told the college center crowd that had gathered to give him a proper welcome, “We’re proud of the movement of the ball, the movement of the players and we’ll shoot that basketball,” he said. he also added, nodding at the returning Mocs. , “I will say that you are also going to have to play defense.”
He also said something that the best coaches always practice: “The art of coaching is to blend your style with the kind of talent you have.”
It’s unclear exactly what talent it will be at this time. Caldwell says he will be back. Hopefully Grant Ledford will return, along with local product Jamaal Walker and a few others.
Then there’s the aforementioned Stephens, with his 19.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game last season and his Tuesday night entry into the transfer portal, which is sure to spark plenty of speculation, if only for a day or two, about joining Earl at UTC. .
Considering Stephens has also averaged 3.3 assists and 2.0 blocks per outing, plus the fact that he’s 6-foot-11, weighs 266 pounds, and has hit 49% of his 3-pointers, he’s little likely he will choose to transfer to UTC. Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia or West Virginia (where he grew up) would seem much more likely.
Even Earl, when asked about the possibility that Stephens could conclude a Moc, said something about the “recruitment rules”, then added: “I don’t know if I’m the biggest fan of the way basketball is going. -college ball”, as if anyone is.
Yet he also nuanced his reluctance about the transfer portal by adding: ‘But you have to embrace it’.
And Earl will have to embrace it if UTC is to have any hope of repeating as SoCon champions and entering the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.
Still, regardless of what his new head coach may or may not say about Stephens, Caldwell is all for the prospect of the immensely tall and talented post player joining his coach at Mocsville.
“It would be great to have him here,” Caldwell said. “He can really shoot.”
And as Earl noted on Wednesday the advantages he will have at UTC with or without Stephens: “There is so much for sale here. More resources. at VMI.”
All of that should help. All of this always helps.
But what will help bring smiles to the Mocs Nation for years to come will be if Earl keeps his promise to the college center crowd.
“I promise you we’ll win a few games,” he said, “and compete for championships.”
No one who saw VMI shock the Mocs inside the Roundhouse should ever doubt it.