Official practices began last Friday for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, setting in motion a 30-practices-in-40-days schedule building up to the season opener against Boston College on Nov. 10.
For anyone alarmed that the return of basketball season snuck up this season – take a deep breath— there’s still plenty of time before it actually tips off. UMass is simply complying with a new NCAA rule that expanded practice schedules. Instead of jamming 30 practices into a four-week window, teams are now allowed 40 days to practice.
Coach Derek Kellogg thinks positively of the added practice time.
“It’s three days where I didn’t go as long as we maybe could’ve or should’ve,” he said when asked about the start of the new schedule. “I thought it was a good pace, we went a couple hours three straight days and the guys performed well.”
The official start of practices offered the first glimpse at some of the new talent displayed on the current roster. The Minutemen added four freshmen – Zach Coleman, Demetrius Dyson, Clyde Santee and Seth Berger – in addition to redshirt sophomore Derrick Gordon, who was sidelined last season after transferring from Western Kentucky.
For the four freshmen, continued adjustment to the speed of college play will come with additional practice time. So far, Kellogg’s satisfied with what he’s seen.
“What I’ve been impressed with thus far with them is they kind of have a good basketball IQ,” he said of their sense for the game.
While UMass enters the season with an established group of players in place, the young players will have an opportunity to make an impact as the Minutemen look to replace the production of both Terrell Vinson and Freddie Riley. Vinson, one of two players to start every game for UMass last year, averaged 12.3 points per game a season ago, while Riley was often regarded as the team’s strongest perimeter defender.
Remaining competitive throughout practice will go a long way in filling some of those minutes, especially for the younger players.
“The competition’s pretty good right now, (the freshmen) are pushing the older guys,” Kellogg said. “It’ll be interesting as things start to play out.”
Sampson Carter, one of three seniors on the roster, is embracing the style of competition in addition to his leadership role on the team.
“I think it’s good we have a lot of freshmen,” he said. “Having a lot of freshmen really motivates me to do everything the correct way, the right way, just to be a leader and show them how everything’s supposed to be done … they push me to go harder every day.”
Carter’s familiarity with the system also creates an easy avenue of leadership for younger players to visit.
“I’ve been here a while now and I climbed the steps so I know the steps by now,” Carter said, adding that leadership “comes natural” to him now.
Entering the season, the Minutemen will need significant contributions from veterans such as Carter or Raphiael Putney. But Kellogg notes that success can come in a variety of different ways.
“Don’t worry so much about things that don’t really matter, like scoring or making shots,” Kellogg said. “If (the veterans) do the little things of defending and rebounding and playing within the team, we’ll be a good basketball team and if we’re a good team, those guys will look good.”
With over a month of practice time remaining, Kellogg still has plenty of evaluation to do, especially with the younger players. But he also has a message to returning players in regards to the competition.
“I wouldn’t stay out too long if I was the older guys,” he said.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli