Mocs Basketball Set To Begin Season Next Week

Thursday, November 19, 2020
Opening day is just seven days away for the Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball program. The season starts at 2 p.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 25, as Bellarmine visits the Roundhouse before Thanksgiving, which is an apt holiday when even talking about having a 2020-21 campaign.

GoMocs.com’s season preview series looked ahead by glancing back on Monday. The second of three installments turns its eye to the newcomers on the 2020-21 roster. There are five total with two more currently sitting out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The breakdown:

NCAA Transfers (4): Malachi Smith (eligible/Wright State), Mark Tikhonenko (eligible/Sam Houston), Darius Banks (sitting/James Madison), KC Hankton (sitting/Saint Louis)
Grad Transfers (1): Josh Ayeni (South Alabama)
Redshirts (2): Jaden Frazier, Jamaal Walker
 
Smith jumps off the page. The sophomore point guard made quite an impression during his transitional year; often times looking like the best player on the floor. It was easy to see why he was a member of the Horizon League All-Freshman squad.

 "It made me get better in all aspects of the game," he shared before practice about his sit-out year. "Not only on the court but off it as well. Knowing my body, know what the coach likes and how the team jells together. I took advantage of being able to sit back, observing and adding to my game."

He played in all 35 games for the Raiders averaging 5.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Those averages came in just 15.1 minutes of reserve action so his impact was massive in a combo guard role for the 2019 co-champions.

 Frazier and Walker were here too getting valuable experience in what’s expected in the program as well in skills development which has been a strong point in the Lamont Paris Era. Both have the potential to step into rotational roles sooner than later in the post and on the wing, respectively.

"The way that our system works, it's really good to get that year under your belt and see how things work (for Malachi, Jaden & Jamaal)," A.J. Caldwell noted. "Jamaal, for instance, was a little hesitant when he first came in last year. This year, he's competing for minutes and really confident about what he's doing."

Two bigs were added in the offseason that have looked good in the preseason. Forwards Mark Tikhonenko and Josh Ayeni came from Sam Houston and South Alabama with Ayeni’s first stop coming at St. Bonaventure. Tikhonenko is a highly-skilled forward with excellent size. He overcame injury woes from early in his career to contribute 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds off the bench in 31 games last season.

If Ayeni seems familiar, it’s because he was South Alabama’s most impactful player in the Mocs 90-72 drubbing of the Jaguars last November. Ayeni scored 12 points in 17 minutes. He was limited to a mere eight games after an eye-popping start to his career.

Ayeni started 40 of 56 career games in two seasons at St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10. He averaged 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest for the Bonnies who went 46-20 over that time including 26-8 earning an NCAA at-large berth in 2017-18.

Two more exciting additions currently require a little extra patience in forwards Darius Banks and KC Hankton. Banks was a 3-year starter and 1,000-point scorer at James Madison before a coaching change this past spring. Hankton was limited to 34 games at Saint Louis after a stellar prep career at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C.

"I think the biggest thing about all of our new guys is that they're all experienced,” Caldwell added. “Most of the time when you get new guys, they're usually freshmen or haven't played very much at the college level. You look at the guys we have...Malachi played a year at Wright State. Mark's played at a couple of different places. DB started a BUNCH of games at James Madison. Josh has played minutes at a couple of different places. 

"We brought in a lot of experience which is different from a lot of places."

Smith's natural point guard leadership skills enter play on two levels being able to aid in the transition of the true four new guys on the roster.

"I just try to be there when they need me and answer any questions they have," he continued. "Leading by example is the biggest thing showing them how we do things here and how we'll be successful this season."

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