By Parris Clarke, Assistant Sports Editor-
Two weeks ago, Chattanooga Men’s basketball forward Stefan Kenic announced that he was forgoing his COVID-19 year of eligibility and turning pro overseas in Europe.
Replacing Kenic is going to be a tough task. For starters, he averaged 11.8 points per game and was more than an apt three-point shooter, hitting 37 percent of his shots from distance. His impact went beyond the numbers, though. His unique skillset gave UTC the ability to play multiple different styles, creating a malleability that was crucial to last season’s success. Losing the third-best player on the team may not seem like a huge deal to some, but it creates a hole that if not filled correctly could make or break the success for seasons to come.
Kenic is the type of big man made to play the modern game of basketball. He’s a 6’9” forward with a knock-down three-point stroke and a solid array of post moves that allow him to score with his back to the basket if need be. As the basketball world increasingly emphasizes pace and space, obtaining players like Kenic are going to be at a premium. Many times last season when David Jean-Baptiste or Malachi Smith would float to the rim uncontested it was Kenic who deserved the credit. While they were receiving cheers from the crowd, Kenic was spotting up at the three-point line, dragging the opposing team’s big man away from the basket, leaving the rim unprotected.
Standing in the corner and being a floor spacer isn’t the sexiest role to have in the offense. Sure, Kenic had nights like the one against Western Carolina where he buried seven threes on his way to 27 points and a Mocs’ victory, but his ability to step in and fill whatever role the team needed on a night-to-night basis was his best skill. Asking a player to sacrifice individual accolades for the betterment of the team is a hard thing to do as a coach. It’s even harder to find someone who does it with a smile on his face.
Players like this are a team’s glue. Like I said before, losing a role player may not seem like a huge blow, but it’s not just about finding someone who can step into that role with the same skill set, the intangibles have to be there as well. Take Derek Fisher for example, Fisher was a point guard on the early 2000’s Los Angeles Laker teams that won three championships. He wasn’t a flashy player, there was nothing riveting about his game, but he brought something intangible to the table that couldn’t be quantified in stats or shown in highlights. Fisher left the team in 2004 and the Lakers didn’t sniff that kind of success again. Not until the 2007-2008 season when Fisher returned to the Lakers in the summer. They instantly made the following three NBA Finals, winning two of them. Fisher and Kenic have the same impact — the kind that transcends the box score.
Kenic’s announcement comes at a time of great movement for the Mocs, as the team has announced a flurry of signings and transfers that are headed to Chattanooga for the upcoming season. One of the recently announced transfers could be a potential replacement for Kenic, former University of Central Florida big man Avery Diggs. Whatever replacement steps into Kenic’s old shoes it won’t be his skill set that will help the Mocs win games, but his intangibles that create the most promise.