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Chattanooga's Championship History is as Good as Any in Mid-Major Hoops (Part 1 of 2)

For the 11th time in school history, Chattanooga finds itself back in the Big Dance--a place that had become familiar territory for the Blue and Gold and when the Mocs won their 10th Southern Conference crown in 2009, most figured it wouldn't take another seven years to get another.

UTC's Johnny Taylor Was A Key Cog in UTC's Sweet Sixteen Run In 1997
UTC's Johnny Taylor Was A Key Cog in UTC's Sweet Sixteen Run In 1997
Chattanooga Athletics

CHATTANOOGA, TENN--For the 11th time in school history, Chattanooga finds itself back in the Big Dance--a place that had become familiar territory for the Blue and Gold and when the Mocs won their 10th Southern Conference crown in 2009, most figured it wouldn't take another seven years to get another.

The SoCon has become a league tougher and tougher to win with each passing season, but with the 73-67 win over arch-rival East Tennessee State on in a fifth all-time meeting between the two in the SoCon title game in what is arguably the bitterest of SoCon hardwood rivalries.

Chattanooga

Chuck Ester Dribbles up the floor against ETSU's Lester Wilson (Photo Courtesy of the Southern Conference)

So while the Mocs have all this pedigree, they went through their share of growing pains during that latter part of the John Shulman era. When I was in town working as an intern for the Sports Network and covering the 2008 FCS National Title game between Richmond and Montana, I happened to pick up an article written about UTC basketball on about the fourth page of the Chattanooga Free Press Sports section. I believe it was an article written by John Frierson I believe, but it was a good read as the two football teams prepared for their Dec. 19 national title meeting.

The excitement in town, ironically and maybe for the first time in some years, surrounded UTC football and the rumors flying around about Richmond defensive coordinator Russ Huesman potentially returning to his alma mater to try and stop the bleeding of the of a football team that had won just one game in 2008.

Recovering from what had been a 1-8 start, which featured one win over local Tennessee Temple Bible College, hope did not spring eternal for a Chattanooga basketball program that had done so much for the community over the years.

It had been 12 years since Johnny Taylor, Chris Mims and Wes Moore had put the Mocs on top of the Southern Conference basketball world and made the Mocs a household name following a run to the Sweet 16 under the direction of Mack McCarthy, who had 243 wins as a head coach--the most in school history--was quickly removed from his post as the head coach for violations not related to basketball, but as a represenative of the ethics of Chattanooga basketball in the best way I can put it.

While McCarthy was fired, he truly was one of the characters and nice guys of Chattanooga basketball, and was missed not only for what he did as a head coach, but he was cordial and kind, and was always willing to offer a kind word.

Henry Dickerson was always going to have a tough act to follow, and though he put together some solid teams, such as the 2001 team that lost at the buzzer in the SoCon title game to David Schuck and UNC Greensboro, it was never easy for McCarthy's right-hand man in the Scenic City as the head coach.

Leon Ford (129-123)Ron Shumate (139-61), Murray Arnold (122-46) and Mack McCarthy (243-122) had gotten the Mocs used to success, with Shumate helping the Mocs to a Division II national title in 1976-77, which was a year before the Mocs made the jump to the SoCon. The Mocs had some outstanding players in the late 1970s and early '80s. Players like Willie White and Gerald Wilkins are real trailblazers of success that the Mocs enjoy in the SoCon to this day. The two players still rank as the program's top scorers.

In the program's Division I era alone, McCarthy is responsible for six of the program's 14 twenty-win seasons since Johnny Taylor joining the SoCon in 1977-78. During the Murray Arnold era prior to McCarthy's arrival, he would claim five-straight 20-win seasons in the six he coached the Mocs, giving the two Mocs coaches an astounding 11 two win seasons from 1980-97. The four coaches are responsible for a national title in Division II, 10 SoCon regular-season crowns, eight SoCon Tournament titles, eight NCAA Tournament appearances, a Sweet Sixteen Appearance, an NCAA Second Round appearances, four NIT appearances and a combined 633 wins over a 35-year span.

McCarthy won five SoCon Tournament titles in 12 seasons,while Arnold won three crowns in six seasons, giving the Mocs eight of their NCAA Tournament appearances in a 17-year span from 1980-97, which was obviously the Golden Era of Chattanooga Mocs basketball.

In its 38-year Southern Conference history, Chattanooga has won either a regular-season or tournament title in 20 seasons, and this season, the Mocs won the double for the ninth time in program history, claiming the regular-season and conference tournament crown. All told, the Mocs have won 30 championships in 38 seasons, winning 11 regular-season crowns, eight divisional crowns, and now 11 conference tournament crowns. Since 1977-78, which was the year the Mocs joined the SoCon, no current or former member compares. Davidson comes close, with three regular-season titles, 12 division titles and eight tournament titles, which equates to 22 total titles. Though there are plenty of moments to pick from the history of Chattanooga basketball in this first of a two-part series taking a look at the rivalry, in this first edition, perhaps the greatest team in the history of Chattanooga basketball was the 1996-97 team that matriculated as far as the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out against Austin Croshere, God Shamgod and the Providence Friars in Birmingham, losing 64-58.

1996-97 Mocs:

Though there are plenty of moments to pick from the history of Chattanooga basketball in this first of a two-part series taking a look at the rivalry, in this first edition, perhaps the greatest team in the history of Chattanooga basketball was the 1996-97 team that matriculated as far as the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out agains  Austin Croshere, God Shamgod and the Providence Friars in Birmingham, losing 64-58.

Players like point guard Wes Moore--no not the former head women's coach--but a walk-on player that more than made his presence known in the Scenic City.

Moore would complete his career as the program's all-time leader in three-pointers made (174), while Willie "Free for Three" Young showed both Georgia and Illinois in the opening two rounds that he could score the basketball in a variety of different ways. Young went on to finish ninth in a single-season in three-pointers made, canning 62 triples and he ended up averaging 14.2 PPG at season's end, and ranked among the top of the SoCon in steals and assists. Isaac Connor, who was a reliable sophomore, proved he could also be an asset shooting the trey, and by the time the lanky Connor graduated in 1999, he ranked fifth in program history in triples made with 149.

Then there was Chris Mims. The kid from Alabama that took nothing off of anyone--a tough, hard-nosed athletic kid who would not be denied on the offensive or defensive end when it came to grabbing a rebound. With white socks pulled up high and tremendous athleticism play bigger than his 6-5 height at the four. Mims reminds me of former Wofford big man Tim Johnson in that he did everything to help that team win ballgames, and his numbers were similar to that of Johnson's, posting 10.7 PPG and 7.4 RPG.

But it was obvious there was one distinct player that set the Mocs apart from anyone in the SoCon, and he was the Stephen Curry before the Stephen Curry. In fact, during Taylor's two seasons in the Scenic City for the Mocs after coming in from Indian Hills Community College, it was a time within the SoCon basketball landscape, which saw JUCO transfers like Frankie King have a huge impact on the league, leading the nation in scoring for much of the 1994-95 season.

Keith Veney, one of the nation's most prolific three-point shooters came to Marshall from Lamar during the Herd's last season in the league, setting an NCAA record in 1996-97 after he canned 15 treys in a single game. There was Jason Williams, who played point for the Herd, and became known as "White Chocolate" in the NBA for his silky cross-over and Pete Maravich-like no-look passes. Sidney Coles was son of Miami Heat standout Bimbo Coles, and the younger son was the national leader in steals in 1996-97. As good as all those players were during that time-span, perhaps none were as talented as Taylor who could truly do it all. In fact, the Mocs


Taylor transferred to Chattanooga from Indian Hills Community College prior to the 1995-96 season, and while bigger programs shied away from Taylor initially due to academics, Taylor got his grades in order and became the crown jewel in McCarthy's Sweet Sixteen team in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.

Taylor finished his two seasons in the Scenic as the fourth-best scoring average (17.3 PPG) in program history, and he became the highest pick in the NBA Draft in the modern era in the 1997 NBA Draft in Charlotte, as he was taken 17th overall by the Orlando Magic. Stephen Curry of Davidson was the seventh pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.

In recent seasons, Taylor served as a grad assistant on the basketball staff for the Mocs. Taylor became a big reason why the Mocs basketball program holds such acclaim to this very day.

The Post McCarthy Era 1998-2002

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrX11iaHapw (Oliver Morton was one of UTC's better players during this era.

Henry Dickerson was a good basketball coach, however, he was not a crowd favorite always coaching in the shadow of former greatness.

Henry Dickerson had good teams, like David Phillips and Clyde McCully, but also some head cases like Neil Ashby who was seemingly on and off the team for some time. Dickerson never had one losing record (2000) in four seasons, but he had talent and never won more than he did was the general consensus. The 2001 title loss was a high point of his career. In his five seasons (1998-2002), Dickerson posted a 72-73 recoed.

In stepped former North Carolina assistant and player Jeff Lebo, as he came from Tennessee Tech. Success would be instant much like it would be under Will Wade some years later. The young, energetic coach got some good players, like transfer Chris Brown, Ashley Champion and foreigner Mindaugas Katelynas. Though Lebo would lead to the title two-straight years, both seasons resulted in losses to ETSU and Lebo left after a job offer from Auburn. He did lead the cupboard stocked full of talent for John Shulman, who would take over in 2004-05. Lebo went 40-21 in his two seasons at Chattanooga.

To get you ready for part 2 of this article on Chattanooga's basketball tradition, check out the link provided below.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3FpkaFh_YYmb0pWVmRkYkNGRUE/view?usp=sharing