College basketball: UMass opens the season against Pat Duquette's UMass Lowell team
To describe the last eight months in the history of UMass basketball as crazy might just be an understatement.
Firing a coach, having a replacement back out and then hiring Matt McCall was all prelude to the start of the 2017-18 season for the Minutemen. That season begins tonight.
"We've been working hard all summer and all through the preseason, to finally know that it's here," said senior swingman C.J. Anderson, "it makes me more pumped and more ready."
The Minutemen open their season at the Mullins Center against Pat Duquette's UMass Lowell River Hawks. The tip-off is set for 7 p.m. After the opener, the Minutemen will travel to Boston for a Sunday afternoon game against Harvard.
In the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason poll, UMass was picked to finish 12th in the 14-team league. Rhode Island is the preseason favorite, with St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph's rounding out the top three.
No UMass player was named to any of the preseason A-10 All-Star teams.
After finishing 15-18 last year and a disappointing 4-14 in the Atlantic 10, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford decided to make a change in the team's leadership. Head coach Derek Kellogg, who returned to his alma mater in 2008, was let go after the season.
UMass had seemingly come to an agreement with Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey to take Kellogg's spot. But less than an hour before Kelsey's introductory news conference, he told university officials that he was not going to take the UMass job.
Shortly after that, McCall was hired. He once worked for Billy Donovan at Florida, and comes to Amherst after two seasons as the head coach at Chattanooga. He is one of four new coaches in the Atlantic 10, joining Anthony Grant at Dayton, Mike Rhoades and Keith Dambrot at Duquesne as new mentors.
"You have a basketball league," McCall said in a release from the conference. "I've never been part of a basketball league before, which to me was part of the reason I took the job."
Chattanooga plays in the Southern Conference, Division I for basketball and most sports, and Division I-FCS in football.
The Minutemen enter the season with a somewhat thinner roster than McCall might have liked to see. Donte Clark, Seth Berger, Zach Coleman, Zach Lewis, Tyrn Flowers, DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham. Add to that the loss of University of Maryland transfer Jaylen Brantley due to a medical condition, and there is playing time to be had.
One of the newcomers is freshman guard Carl Pierre. Pierre averaged 22 points per game as a senior at Boston College High School, and was ranked 22nd in the Class of 2017 in Massachusetts.
"It's been great. There's a lot of work between classes and practice and lifting," he said. "So far, it's been a really fun ride. It's been really fun competing in practice every day and building toward the season."
While McCall and his staff are preparing for Lowell, they have also signed two incoming freshmen for next year.
Samba Diallo, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, N.J., and guard Tre Wood of St. John's College High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday.
"From the basketball side, both Samba and Tre are terrific and can add different elements to our team in a very positive way," McCall said in a statement. "They will help our style of play with both the press and wanting to get up-and-down the floor quickly."
Diallo is a native of Senegal. He was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and 247Sports.com. Wood was listed as a three-sar recruit by ESPN and Scout.com.
They will join four transfers who are sitting out this season.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, and 413-496-6253.
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