UMass men's basketball coach Matt McCall talks end of summer, gearing up for first year as head man

UMass men's basketball coach Matt McCall just wrapped up summer workouts with the Minutemen.
HOWARD HERMAN - THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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AMHERST — When the new men's basketball coach at the University of Massachusetts said goodbye to his new players for the rest of the summer, Matt McCall said that he knows there is still a ways to go in rebuilding the team.

"We are in no shape or form to play a game," McCall said. "The mentality of how things are going to get done, how we're going to work, how things are going to operate.

"We get two hours a week in the gym, so our time spent on basketball isn't much. It's really a focus on how things are going to be done."

McCall was hired by athletic director Ryan Bamford at the end of March, shortly after Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey bailed on the UMass program after originally agreeing to replace Derek Kellogg. Kellogg was fired shortly after the end of the 2016-17 season.

After being hired, McCall had to find and hire a coaching staff, meet with the returning players and hit the recruiting trail for the spring and summer live periods. To call it a whirlwind might just be an understatement.

"Even just going back to our season at Chattanooga, there's been no break," he told The Eagle during an interview in the Champions Center. "It's been non-stop, basically, for the last 12 months.

"It's been a complete whirlwind, and you throw recruiting in on top of that, which is the lifeline of your program. To finish the summer off is big for us."

McCall, his wife Allison and daughters Brooklyn and Kylie are heading off for a Disney cruise before coming back to kick start the 2017-18 season.

The Minutemen will open their season officially on Friday, Nov. 10, against UMass Lowell. The River Hawks are coached by Dalton's Pat Duquette.

Eight of UMass' 13 non-league games in November and December will be played in the Mullins Center. Providence and Georgia are among the bigger names coming to Amherst. UMass will play Minnesota and BYU in Brooklyn, and travel to 2017 Final Four participant South Carolina.

McCall was hired after spending the previous two seasons as the head coach at Chattanooga. He comes to UMass with an overall record of 48-18, and one trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The team that McCall inherited in March is vastly different than then one he was working out last week on the Champions Center court.

Donte Clark, Zach Lewis, Zach Coleman and Seth Berger all left UMass as graduate transfers. They completed their course work and graduated from UMass, and are allowed one additional year of play without sitting out. McCall described them as "free agents."

Touted freshmen DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham also transferred. Jarreau's Twitter biography says he's going to play for the University of Houston. They were reportedly a package, and will sign in November.

"I think anybody's would," said McCall, asked if his head was spinning after all the transfers.

"Especially for me, it was a different transition. When I was at Chattanooga, we had 100-percent retention. That doesn't happen," he said. "I knew there would be some turnover. I was prepared for it.

"Did I expect seven? No. But I do think where the program is at from a personnel standpoint, I'm really happy."

While the smoke on the class of 2017 won't actually clear until September, McCall said he is pretty pleased with two incoming freshmen and former Maryland player Jaylen Brantley, who like the UMass Four, is a graduate transfer.

New Hampton School's Khalea Turner-Morris, a 6-foot-9 forward, and 6-3 guard Carl Pierre from Boston College High School, are the incoming freshmen. Four other transfers will be eligible next year.

"I give our assistants a lot of credit for hitting the recruiting trail hard and being able to fill 13 scholarships the right way," said McCall, "with 13 kids who are the right kids. That was huge."

Reach sports writer Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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