Numbers Game at UT Martin
Two OVC-West titles and two OVC Championship game appearances were accomplished by the Skyhawks of UT Martin with two starting walk-on’s.
Without athletic scholarships, All-OVC Second Team Javier Martinez and All-OVCHoops.com Second Team Kedar Edwards accomplished wonders for their families and their Skyhawk family.
Will UT Martin feature any walk-ons next season?
Unclear. The deadline to establish who is a walk-on is months away and currently no on-scholarship Skyhawks intend to walk-on in the fall.
Beyond the exceptional deep bench contributions in Martin, Tennessee another completely connected oddity is the buy-in from each and every player in the program.
Rare Teamwide Commitment
When Malik London subbed in against Belmont (1/5) he didn’t pout that he was only getting 10.4 mpg at that time. London delivered eight points and a career-high nine rebounds. Missing an injured Jacolby Mobley just before Christmas UT Martin’s Jalen Jackson started and thrived.
Jackson scored nine points, pulling down a career-high seven rebounds, turning the ball over only three times in 25 minutes. This from a guy that ‘DNP-Coach’s Decision’ seven times this season.
Stories of big contributions from seemingly small contributors reside up and down the 2016-2017 UT Martin roster.
Coaching changes inevitably bring roster changes. Signed players find their places unsteady or quickly become unwelcome. For recent examples within the OVC look at Tennessee State (Ford hired), Southeast Missouri (Ray hired), and Jacksonville State (Harper hired). All three programs found ways to sever multiple scholarship relationships with returning players quickly.
It happens across the country and often goes unreported because no SID sends out a press release. The university’s position is simply a deletion of the player’s roster profile and generally silence.
In rare instances the coach will make an innocuous (no questions asked) quote about the program ‘appreciating the player’s contributions to the program, but both sides decided it was time to move on.’
Because the departing player often feels ashamed, perhaps like a failure, and their focus is on finding any landing spot there isn’t much public fuss anywhere.
At UT Martin the coaching change was followed by a single transfer, Jalen Variste.
Head Coach Anthony Stewart attributes that minuscule turnover to loyalty and honesty. He is quick to dispense credit to support staff, administration, and players in celebratory moments. Coach Stewart’s character-driven leadership emphasizes accountability and professionalism from everyone.
The players love him and he gives them full effort and commitment back.
Many, many programs nationally gently nudge, or outright direct, scholarship players to transfer out. Football programs in the SEC are notorious for tossing around student-athletes like used up tires, years before their eligibility expires.
By all accounts the UT Martin basketball program is operating with class and bringing great respect to the campus, the school, the student-body, and the region.
That is where this gets tricky.
As of April 4th, 6:00 PM the Skyhawks have “-6” scholarships available.
Incoming, verbally committed players include DelFincko Bogan, Parrish Hewitt, Terrence Parker, Andre Hogan, Jalen Gill, Jerome Davis, and Carlos Marshall, Jr.
Of these seven players one or two might not meet the minimum academic requirements for enrollment (GPA/Test).
Despite VerbalCommits.com’s classification (See Below) as such, Matthew Butler is not a walk-on. So, their calculation that UT Martin has -3 is off by three. Butler’s scholarship makes the current figure -6.
Remember, as currently constructed, this program has no walk-ons among the 19 predicted scholarship players. The NCAA allows 13 full scholarships for basketball.
In other words, somebody has to go. Several somebodies.
Will these somebodies willfully depart? Are they players that saw no window for playing time left in Martin, TN and elected to try a different path?
Considering that outgoing D1 players have been announcing the intent to transfer for the last month.
If a player transfers now they have mere days to find a new spot, a spot most Class of 2017 recruits and available JuCo’s have been clawing for since January.
Transfers do happen and they do happen with regularity. In fact, the number of college basketball D1 transfers exceeded 700 for the first time last spring. This year will probably be higher when the dust settles.
UT Martin is not unique in parting ways with a scholarship player or two. Murray State had two leave in the last two weeks (Dondre Griffin, Gilbert Thomas).
But, what makes this noteworthy is that UT Martin positioned itself as a unique, different kind of program.