The start of the 2011 college basketball season means that four Massachusetts men’s basketball players get the opportunity to step on the court for the first time as Minutemen.
True freshman Cady Lalanne, redshirt sophomore Chaz Williams and redshirt freshman Maxie Esho and Andrew McCarthy will all be eligible to log their first minutes in UMass uniforms, despite the fact that they’ve all spent two years with the team.
The eligibility of Williams and Lalanne is particularly exciting given their level of talent and considering the adversity each player faced in order to reach UMass.
“I’m hoping that both of them down the line make my job easier by being good basketball players,” said Kellogg.
Williams, a 5-foot-9 Hofstra transfer, will step right into the starting point guard job, a spot left vacated after the graduation of former floor general, Gary Correia.
Correia was a serviceable option last year but his numbers were far from jaw dropping. He averaged 4.3 points per game, handed out 3.3 assists per game, shot just 32 percent from the field, and logged 27.3 minutes per game, the second most on the team.
The Minutemen now look to Williams to pick up the pace this year, something he’s certainly capable of doing given his pedigree.
“He was an all-freshman [league] player in the CAA which is a league almost comparable to the A-10,” said Kellogg.
Williams spent just one season at Hofstra, and enjoyed plenty of success during his time there.
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native played second fiddle to one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball during the 2009-2010 season, Charles Jenkins.
Williams finished second in scoring behind Jenkins with 9.8 points per game and led the team in assists with 4.2 per game. In addition to the scoring and passing, Williams was a proficient 3-point shooter, connecting on just under 39 percent of his treys.
Although, it pained him to sit and watch his team last season, Williams used the year off to acclimate himself with his teammates and his surroundings.
“I love UMass,” said Williams. “It’s a great academic school and the teammates make it much easier and the coaching staff makes it much easier to be here.”
The debut of freshman forward Lalanne will be equally anticipated.
The 6-foot-9 Lalanne joins the Minutemen after a tumultuous start to his collegiate career.
He spent his high school days in Orlando, Fla., where he was a tremendous high school player, averaging 21 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists per game as a senior at Oak Ridge.
Lalanne received interest from Southeastern Conference schools Georgia and Mississippi, and ultimately chose the Bulldogs.
However, he left Georgia at the start of last season when he was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.
UMass, a school that has made a habit out of picking up academic non-qualifiers, jumped at the opportunity to obtain a skilled forward.
He was unable to participate in practices or games last season, and he broke his foot early this semester, but he’ll be healthy and prepared to contribute this season.
Lalanne has gained the respect of the coaches around the A-10 as he was selected to the preseason All-Rookie team.
Williams and Lalanne have each spent a year with the team and are certainly ready to contribute. However, as exciting the prospect of getting these two on the court may be, Kellogg wants to approach their development cautiously.
“I guess I want to call it guarded optimism,” said Kellogg.“I think they have a real chance to be very, very good players here someday,” he added. “I’m really looking forward to their progression throughout the season.”
Joining Williams and Lalanne as new comers are two freshmen that were also forced to spectate last season.
Maxie Esho, a 6-foot-8 forward was a highly regarded prospect out of high school, but got caught up in a numbers game last season and was redshirted, giving him time to work on his body and polish his game.
“He’s done a great job finally getting his body in a little bit more physical shape, his athleticism is through the roof and I have to just find a place for him,” said Kellogg.
Unfortunately for Esho, he could be stuck in a numbers game once again. The Minutemen have a plethora of Esho’s type – lengthy, athletic slashers – but Kellogg is confident he’ll find a spot for him in the rotation.
“He’s our best front man on our press, he’s our best on the ball defender on side out’s and [out of bound] unders, and so even if he’s a specialty guy, he’s going to get minutes to play,” said Kellogg.
The final freshman eligible to play this year is 7-foot-1 center Andrew McCarthy.
Before Minuteman fans start putting all their fiath in the prospect of a 7-footer patrolling the paint in the Mullins Center, they should know that McCarthy has a long way to go.
“Andrew’s coming along slowly, but I think with 7-foot guys that have a little ways to go you have to be a little patient with them,” said Kellogg.
The Scituate native walked onto the team last year and was promptly redshirted. He has the size to be an impact player, but for now he lacks the skills and speed necessary to contribute regularly.
“I’m being patient with him, but there could be some games where he helps out if there’s a 7-footer that our other guys are struggling to cover,” said Kellogg.
Jordan Laguerre, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, will also join the team as a freshman this year, but will not participate in any games due to his NCAA partial qualifier status.
Kellogg has made it abundantly clear that he wants to transform his team into a well-respected program. With players like Williams, Lalanne and Esho ready to contribute, his goal may be within reach this season.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.