Randy Smith: Greatest UTC Team Ever

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - by Randy Smith
Since we're headed toward "March Madness" and the Chattanooga Mocs season is finished, today would be a good day to pick the all-time best mens' basketball team in UTC history. It is really a tough chore; one that required a lot of thought and some research. It's totally my opinion and that means absolutely nothing. Still, it's fun to think about and even debate about. There are several Mocs' squads that would qualify. The 1977 D-II National Champions, coached by Ron Shumate,  the 1997 Mocs who made the NCAA "Sweet 16" under Mack McCarthy or even the 2005 Mocs of John Shulman who upset Tennessee and won the SoCon Title.

I had the privilege of watching and covering all three of those teams as well as every other UTC team from 1975 until now, and my personal choice is Murray Arnold's 1982 Mocs; the team that upset North Carolina State in the NCAA Tournament. The Southern Conference Champs that year featured a 6'-11" post player named Russ Schoene, a 6-'-2" point guard named Nick Morken and a 6'-3" sophomore shooting guard named Willie White. Schoene spent several years in the NBA after leaving UTC, while White and Morken each played a a few games in the pros as well. 

The 1983 Mocs team added Gerald Wilkins who also spent a dozen years in the NBA, but Morken and Schoene each had graduated.The 1982 team had won the SoCon Championship the season before, the first of three straight crowns and trips to the "Big Dance." But the 1982 squad was special. They finished the season 27-4 and 15-1 in Southern Conference play. Their only league loss that year was a 60-56 loss at Western Carolina. The Mocs avenged that loss a few weeks later at McClellan Gym 85-61 and clinched the league title.

After sweeping through the Southern Conference Tournament the Mocs traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana for the NCAA Mideast Regionals. They faced  the Wolfpack in round one on a Friday night, and held the Jim Valvano coached squad to just 13 points in the first half. The Mocs led 27-13 at the break and held on for a 58-51 victory. Ironically the Wolfpack won the 1983 NCAA Title the following season.

The Mocs then faced Big Ten champ Minnesota in round two and UTC led the Gophers 36-34 at halftime. They had a chance to win the game as they played the ball in with eleven seconds to go, trailing  62-61. Willie White who led the Mocs in scoring with 22 points in the game was expected to take the go ahead shot but Coach Murray Arnold called the perfect play using White as a decoy for Russ Schoene. White drew a double team and dished the ball off to Schoene who had a wide open shot underneath. Schoene had an easy lay up or even a dunk but chose to finesse the ball in. The shot spun in and out, Minnesota got the rebound and won the game 62-61. One of the biggest shots in UTC history turned out to be one the Mocs missed. 

If Russ Schoene hits that shot, UTC would have advanced to the "Sweet 16. Instead the 1981-82 UTC team set the pace for the school's Division I success, finishing 27-4. There may have been other teams in school history who could equal that group of Mocs in terms of accomplishment and success, but no team was ever more talented than that one.      

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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