UMass basketball opens practice for 2016-17 season
AMHERST >> One by one, the members of the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team filed into the Champions Center practice gym. Then, after several Minutemen had media obligations, they all headed into the film room. And it's only the second day of practice.
"For sure, it does," said forward Seth Berger, responding to a question about if he feels like it's time to start preparing. "We've been working all spring and summer, actually, since the season ended last year. We're really looking forward to this and to working hard with the new guys that have come in.
"We're ready to go, and we're ready to start playing against someone other than ourselves."
Derek Kellogg's Minutemen open at the Mullins Center in six weeks when they host Pat Duquette's UMass-Lowell RiverHawks on Nov. 11.
"I'm excited. I'm just excited because these guys are eager to learn," said Kellogg, who is beginning his ninth year at UMass. "We've got a good bunch of young guys combined with some old guys who have done things the right way.
"I think we have a chance to be a pretty good basketball team."
Six of UMass' first eight games are at home, including a Nov. 17 date with old Atlantic 10 rival Temple.
One of the road games is on Sunday, Nov. 20, against Holy Cross and that will be played at Worcester's DCU Center.
"It was nice to have a full roster of guys to kind of move from drill to drill and being able to scrimmage and do some things to better account for who can do what, and where we're at," Kellogg said to reporters at the first media availability of the 2016-17 season. "We were up for two hours, 20 minutes, and it was fun to see the young guys start to slow down a little bit at that point.
"It's a little bit of growing stages right now. What I'm trying to do is practice enough to practice, to where it's a real two-and-a-half-hour, up and down, no break type of deal."
UMass is coming off its first sub-.500 season in five years. UMass was 14-18 last year and a disappointing 6-12 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Players are always excited for the first day of practice. How about coaches? Kellogg said he was looking forward to the start of the preseason, remembering it as a player, an assistant and a head coach.
"It's a whole different ballgame, because when I was a player, we didn't spend the summers here and you couldn't do anything leading up to practice," said the coach. "The reality of it now is that it's just a 365-day deal. This is just the unofficial official start of practice.
"We've kind of been doing things for a while now. It's fun to be able to do it for a higher level."
The Minutemen enter this season having lost three of their top four scorers, two starters and four players who played 18 minutes or more.
The top returning scorer is junior Donte Clark, who averaged 16.1 points per game last year.
There are five juniors on the UMass roster. Clark is one of them. There are also three sophomores and five freshmen, so Clark is going to be a leader this year.
"I'm still trying to get used to that," said Clark. "They're definitely watching me. They tell me all the time. They even get on me like I'm one of the younger guys."
As to whether the Minutemen can get back on the positive side of the .500 ledger, Berger is optimistic.
"I think we can win the A-10 championship and I think we can make a run at the [NCAA] tourney," said the redshirt junior from Seattle. "I think it all depends on how hard we work and how dedicated we are.
"Our mindsets are the same and we're committed to winning. We have one common goal, and that's to win."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.