For Massachusetts men’s basketball guard Anthony Gurley, there is no future left to live up to the high expectations. The senior has one final year at UMass to prove he was deserving of the hype he received when he transferred from Wake Forest after his freshman season.
Gurley (13.6 points per game) is the top-returning scorer from last year. The leading scorer, guard Ricky Harris, graduated at the end of the season, which leaves a glaring void in the Minutemen offense.
In line to take over the scoring load left behind by Harris is Gurley. Not only will he look to lead in the stat sheet, but he’ll be in more of a leadership position this year, as well.
“I’ve been around the longest since my second year in college, so I kind of take the initiative to let guys know what’s going on and make sure we’re heading in the right direction,” Gurley said.
The Boston native began his college career in 2006 as a member of the Demon Deacons. In his rookie campaign, Gurley averaged 6.4 points in 14 minutes per game, showing glimpses of his high potential.
He then transferred to UMass in 2007, adding to a strong Minutemen squad guided by former coach Travis Ford. Gurley, however, had to sit out Ford’s final year before he departed for Oklahoma State, due to ineligibility. The team, meanwhile, reached the National Invitational Tournament final and lost to Ohio State, concluding an exciting season.
In 2008, former UMass point guard Derek Kellogg took over at the helm for the Minutemen. Kellogg has used Gurley, who he’s known for years, at various positions in multiple roles, whether it’s in the starting lineup or off the bench.
After coming off the bench in 19 games last season, Gurley is expected to not only be a mainstay in the starting lineup this year, but the primary playmaker.
“The good thing is, I think there are different players, if they’re put in the right position, [who] can score for us and make plays,” Kellogg said. “I have a better feel for Anthony where he’s going to be successful.
“Then I think there’s a bunch of other guys that are capable of giving you anywhere from 5-10 points on a given night.”
Gurley, despite his confidence in his ability to lead the offense, knows it will take a team effort to replace the lost production from Harris.
“I think everybody else has to step up,” Gurley said. “We have to get more point-production from everybody else.”
Already through one regular season contest and an exhibition tilt, Gurley has shown he’ll be more aggressive this year.
In the season opener, along with sophomore guard Freddie Riley, Gurley caught fire to bring UMass back from 22 points down to beat Rider. Gurley scored a career-high 31 points, including the 1,000th point of his career, on 12-of-20 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. He also chipped in four rebounds, two steals and a block in the 77-67 win.
Against Brandeis in the preseason, Gurley recorded 13 points and a game-high seven assists to lead the Minutemen to an 83-60 victory. Even though the Judges are a Division III team, Kellogg was quick to say he believed it was Gurley’s best all-around game in his time at UMass.
“I mean, he didn’t force the action and he scored more because of it, he made plays for other guys and he was solid defensively,” Kellogg said after defeating the Judges.
While Gurley is back with the Minutemen for his senior year, fans might not remember that he was one of 80 college players who declared for 2010 NBA draft. He didn’t hire an agent, however, and withdrew his name by the May 8 deadline, which allowed him to come back for his final season.
Though his decision was questioned at the time, Gurley’s intentions weren’t solely to get drafted. He wanted to get feedback on how to improve his game and was able to do just that after earning a workout with the Boston Celtics. Essentially, there was no downside to his decision and he got a better idea of his future draft prospects.
“I definitely got some exposure that I wanted, and it was something that I really wanted to do,” Gurley said. “I talked it over with my family and we all came to the agreement that it would be a good idea for me to put my name in the draft and kind of test the waters a little bit and see where my stock was at.”
The process gave him a taste of the next level, which will fuel Gurley in his final year as he looks to make a case that he can be an NBA player.
Jay Asser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.