That team featured former greats like center and VCU transfer Justin Tuoyo, veteran point guard Greg Pryor, off-guard and maybe the Mocs most talented overall player, in Tre McClean, as well as forwards Chuck Ester and Duke Etheridge. It would a Mocs team that would go on to fall just one win shy of 30 victories for the season. Had that been the case, it would have marked the third 30-win team in five seasons for the SoCon. Add to that a player like Casey Jones, who prior to injury, was the preseason SoCon Player of the Year.
As good as the players are already returning to the fold for the Mocs entering the 2021-22 season, the Mocs went out and added a player, in Kansas transfer 6-9 forward Silvio De Sousa, which probably alleviated any doubts as to who the media and coaches will tab as the preseason favorite for the league's hardwood season.
In 18 games for the Jayhawks during his junior season, De Sousa averaged 2.6 PPG and 2.8 RPG, averaging a little over eight minutes per contest. De Sousa sat out the 2018-19 season, however, as a freshman in 2017-18, was a solid piece to Kansas' Final Four puzzle, as he ended up averaging 4.0 PPG and 3.7 RPG in 20 games
Unfortunately, as talented as De Sousa has been on the court throughout his career at Kansas, it has been overshadowed by his off-the-court troubles. He was log action in 18 games during the 2019-20 campaign before his career would take a swift change of direction in Lawrence.
Following the events of Jan. 22, 2020, De Sousa's career at Kansas would never be the same. It was De Sousa's role in an a that altercation that quickly developed into a bench-clearing brawl against arch-rival Kansas State in a nationally-televised game at Allen Fieldhouse, which unfortunately most people recall about De Sousa, instead of his supreme talent as a hooper.
De Sousa was suspended immediately by Kansas head coach Bill Self, as well as the Big 12 conference immediately following the game, and would miss the final 12 games of the season.
The native of Angola announced he was leaving the Kansas basketball program just prior to the 2020-21 season, however, his trouble wasn't over, as he was caught up in altercation outside a Lawrence bar, and was charged with a felony of aggravated battery, according to KUSports.com. That altercation took place in mid-October of 2020, and he De Sousa will have a court date slated for Aug. 2.
The major positive is that De Sousa graduated from Kansas, managing to stick to his academic school work, despite all the off-the-court turmoil. He'll get a much needed new start at Chattanooga.
In addition to De Sousa, the other pieces the Mocs return were enough alone for some folks to make the Mocs the odds-on preseason favorites in the SoCon even without the addition of the power-five transfer. The Mocs welcome the return of seven of their top nine scorers back from a year ago, with only big man Stefan Kenic and guard Trey Doomes, who transferred out to Oklahoma Baptist follwing the season, accounting for the only major departures for the Mocs.
After struggling in his first couple of seasons to create the type of cohesion and continuity that would keep the Mocs in the hunt, due in large part to player departures and having to turn over rosters, head coach Lamont Paris heads into a season seemingly settled for the first time since being in the Scenic City.
By settled, I mean the Mocs have the kind of toughness, grit, talent and depth that the 12-time league champions have seen so many seasons in the past.The Mocs finished tied for second in the league in total wins last season, tied with Mercer (18 wins) and trailed only UNC Greensboro (21 wins) in total wins a year ago.
The Mocs return four starters for the 2021-22 season, including a player in David Jean-Baptiste, who helps bridge a large gap in Mocs basketball, as Jean-Baptiste is the only remaining player from Paris' first team as head coach of the Mocs back in 2017-18. In Paris' first season, the Mocs were not good. The 10 wins by the Mocs were tied for the worst in the program's NCAA Division I history, dating back to 1977-78.
Needless to say, Jean-Baptiste has seen it all during his time as a Moc, and he will finish out his career as the most-experienced Mocs player in program history, thanks to the extra year awarded as a result of COVID-19.
Midway through last season, it even appeared as though Jean-Baptiste was going to change his course away from the Scenic City all together, entering the transfer portal for a couple of weeks, shocking everyone, only to return to the Mocs team two weeks later in time for Chattanooga's SoCon opener against Furman.
He'll once again be the fulcrum for the Mocs this coming season, and will almost assuredly enter the 2021-22 campaign as a first-team all-conference guard.
In 2020-21, Jean-Baptiste garnered All-SoCon honors for a second-straight season, and finished as the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 16.1 PPG and 3.3 RPG last season, while leading the club in made three-pointers, knocking down a total of 59 triples last season.
Other starters returning to the fold will be preseason Player of the Year candidate Malachi Smith (16.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG), 6-5 guard Jamaal Walker (5.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG), redshirt senior guard and ultimate "glue guy" A.J. Caldwell (6.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG), and junior power forward Josh Ayeni (5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG) all return for the Mocs for the upcoming season.
Smith was Chattanooga's most talented player a year ago, and is a double-double machine. While most figure it will be The Citadel forward Hayden Brown to be chosen as the preseason SoCon Player of the Year in October, you'd be wise not to sleep on Smith. He was sensational last season, averaging a double-double per game over the first two-plus months of the 2020-21 season.
The Mocs will also return the SoCon's version of former Kentucky standout guard Tayshaun Prince, in the form of K.C. Hankton (8.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG), as well as Darius Banks (11.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG), who began to emerge as reliable scorer for the Mocs, as his minutes increased towards the latter part of the season.
For now at least, the Mocs are my team to beat heading into the 2021-22 campaign.