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Anthony Gurley feels at home in second year at UMass

HoopFIt’s Anthony Gurley’s time to shine.

With a year under him in coach Derek Kellogg’s dribble-drive offense, all that needs to be answered is if the physical guard will combine with senior guard Ricky Harris to lead a young Massachusetts men’s basketball team back to the NCAA tournament.

“There’s just a buzz going on through the locker room,” Gurley said. “Everyone’s very excited to start this season off and see what we can do this season. Our ultimate goal is to make it to the tournament. I have very high expectations for the team and I’m sure all of the rest of my teammates do too, so I’m expecting to do very well this year.”

Gurley knows a lot about success and high expectations.

A Boston native and the all-time leading scorer at Newton North High School, Gurley led the team to a 27-0 record his senior year before signing to play for Wake Forest in 2006. As a freshman, he played in all 31 games for the Deacons, playing an average of 14.5 minutes per game, averaging 6.4 points and 1.6 rebounds as Wake’s most dynamic first-year player. He scored a career-high 24 points against Georgia Tech, making 8-of-11 field goals, 4-of-5 3-pointers and 4-of-5 free throws in a victory over the Yellow Jackets.

One of the best young, athletic defenders and sixth man in the Atlantic Coast Conference his freshman year, Gurley was going to make a push for the starting five in his second season in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Then came the death of coach Skip Prosser.

Prosser died of a heart attack in the summer of 2007, just as the team, as well as Gurley, began preparing for the upcoming season.

Gurley decided to transfer closer to home and start fresh, but with it, came a year of sitting out due to NCAA rules, and a new system.

While sitting out the 2007-2008 season, Gurley watched from the sidelines as one of the strongest UMass teams in recent memory reached the National Invitational Tournament, and then saw coach Travis Ford leave for Oklahoma State in the spring.

Gurley would be playing for three different coaches in three different seasons. Last season, he averaged 11.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in his first season in Amherst, starting 23 of 30 games, and coming off the bench in the seven other contests. The Minutemen finished below expectations last season in Kellogg’s first year at the helm with a 12-18 record. But with a strong recruiting class looking to build for the future, Kellogg will rely on Gurley and Harris’s experience in order to mentor a 2009 team that has five freshmen and two transfers, Sean Carter and Hashim Bailey.

“I’m willing to do whatever I can for the younger guys and I’m sure the other guys are too,” Gurley said.

Like many other collegiate players, he has been there too.

He played with some of the best talent at Wake, and then learned from players like Tony Gaffney, Gary Forbes and Chris Lowe.

Gurley took giant steps this off-season in conditioning and ball-handling as well as moving the ball around in order to help the Minutemen have a legitimate shot at winning this season.

“I worked on my ball handling and I’m trying to work on getting other people involved,” Gurley said. “I’m also trying to work on my conditioning, and I got in a lot better shape this year than I was in last year.”

In an exhibition win against Dowling on Nov. 7, Gurley started at forward, and in 26 minutes, had 13 points and eight rebounds in an 80-78 victory. In the Minutemen’s first game of the season against Central Florida, Gurley notched 14 points off the bench on 5-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the line.

“With a year under my belt in the system, I feel a lot more comfortable this year,” Gurley said. “Last year I was just getting used to where I want to be on the floor and stuff like that but now I feel a lot more comfortable.”

Gurley finally being comfortable is a relief for UMass fans and Kellogg, who hope that this could be the year the Minutemen once again get back to the Big Dance.

David Brinch can be reached at dbrinch@student.umass.edu.

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