Refocused: Raphiael Putney hopes to bounce back with strong senior season
Raphiael Putney is a seafood guy.
Apart of the program Athletes in Action this summer, a religious-based basketball retreat, Putney traveled to Spain for a two-week stint and participated in the program’s basketball tour while also finding time to enjoy the delicacies of overseas travel.
“My favorite part of Spain, it was the food,” Putney said. “I’m a seafood type of guy so I love seafood.”
“And also, just being around a group of guys from different college teams, there’s a lot of players around the nation and you don’t get a chance to meet them.”
Putney’s trip overseas offered more than the typical basketball tour.
Athletes in Action is deeply rooted in faith. As its website states, “Athletes in Action has been using sports as a platform to help people answer questions of faith and to point them to Jesus.” For Putney, it was the perfect fit.
“It actually got me in touch with God a lot more,” he said. “Every day for two weeks we read the Bible for at least an hour. We took passages out of the Bible and we focused on dealing with basketball and off-the-court situations.
“It helped me keep my head balanced and stuff like that. It really did good things for me, I’m a religious person.”
The team, which went undefeated during its time in Spain, met with various international professionals and also hosted a youth camp of over 400 students. The camaraderie is a connection Putney will hold forever.
“I got a chance to meet a team of players for a good two and a half weeks and got a good bond with them, I’ll know (them) the rest of my life,” Putney said.
His roommate and fellow senior forward Sampson Carter said the two Skyped back and forth often while Putney was in Spain. Carter was in charge of getting the duo’s apartment together in Amherst while he was away.
“He said it was a great experience,” Carter said. “It’s very different as far as the country and as far as even the game. College basketball, spacing on the court, he was talking to me about the ways to score over there, stuff like that.”
Carter – who Putney described as “a brother” – allows Putney a calming influence to turn to at any moment, especially because they play the same position.
“I just talk to him a lot, I talk to him about what I need to do,” Putney said. “Try to keep myself motivated and keep myself on the ground and stuff like that.”
Observing the international game also offered Putney great perspective and a chance to network within the international game.
“I accepted that challenge,” Putney said. “I thought it would be a good thing for my game as well, going into my senior year. Seeing some different things overseas, some transgressions as to how I play overseas and how I play in college.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg thought the experience was perfect for a veteran player looking to expand his horizons.
“If a guy had a great experience and enjoyed himself, for me as a head coach, that’s fantastic,” Kellogg said. “It’s something that he’ll probably never be able to do again.
“That’s one thing about being a college coach and being in a position where we can help provide some opportunities for kids that they probably would have never gotten.”
Of course, there’s still unfinished business in Amherst that Putney wants to settle.
Putney was heavily recruited out of Woodbridge High School in Virginia by teams within the Atlantic 10 Conference. He rattled off schools such as Temple, St. Joseph’s, Xavier and George Washington as others interested in his services. Ultimately, he chose the Minutemen because of his close connection with Kellogg.
“He was telling me he was gonna work with me to become a glue guy for the program,” Putney said. “I just thought he was a cool coach, he’s down to earth, he’d do anything for any recruit he got here. He’s like a father figure without really being my father, the type of father figure you have away from home.”
With the roster retooled and the focus on postseason play at an all-time high, Putney hopes his senior year is his most special yet.
“There is still stuff I want to get to,” he said. “I want to get to an Atlantic 10 championship, that’s one of my dreams and to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Every year we get closer and closer.”
To help his team reach full potential, Putney wants to return to his sophomore form, a season in which he started 30 games and averaged 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while averaging 24.2 minutes per contest.
Last year, he averaged 7.1 points per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor, a substantial drop from his 47 percent shooting mark as a sophomore.
“Honestly, I personally think I had a terrible performance for me last year,” Putney said regarding his junior season.
“I had decent numbers, I just need to be more focused and stuff like that, finishing a lot more plays. I gotta get back to that, just being focused and doing things to win basketball games.”
Kellogg believes much of that focus should go toward the little things in a game which make the difference between winning and losing.
“For us to be a really, really good team, I think he has to have a big year,” Kellogg said. “And when I say a big year, I mean blocking shots, rebounding. When a play is there, make it.”
Kellogg also said many in college basketball focus too much on the offensive side of the ball.
“A guy like Putney comes up with a big block or a big play, the rest of the guys feed off that,” he said. “And normally, when he does those things it leads to something good on the other end of the floor.”
It’s a delicate line to walk for Putney, who understands that expectations are sky-high this season. Still, he’s doing his best to disregard the distractions and focus little on the pressure. Instead, it’s his job as a veteran leader to remain steady on a day-to-day basis.
“I’m a senior, I gotta be sure I have that leadership and that intensity for my other young players that look after me,” Putney said.
Now, it’s time to get to work.
“We know this is our last year,” Putney said. “Last year we didn’t finish a couple games that we needed to win. So this year we’re more mature and we know what we need to do to win now.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.