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April 19, 2017

UMass men’s basketball players react to McCall hire, Kelsey backing out

Jessica Picard/Collegian

To say the last three weeks have been a whirlwind for the Massachusetts basketball program and its players would be an understatement.

Not many team’s can claim they have had three different head coaches in a one-month span, but UMass is one of the rare institutions that holds that distinction.

From the firing of former Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg a mere hour and a half after UMass’ exit from the Atlantic 10 tournament to the sudden change of heart by Pat Kelsey 35 minutes before his introductory press conference last Thursday, Minutemen fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

After a three-week search, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford found his guy in former Chattanooga coach Matt McCall. At Thursday’s introductory press conference for McCall, Minutemen players were happy to see the long search come to a conclusion, especially considering the uncertainty of the program over the last week.

“Last week was tough – try knowing where you’re going then not knowing where you’re going to,” center Rashaan Holloway said. “I’ve never seen it before.”

Guard C.J. Anderson, who is entering his senior season in 2017-18, chose to take an optimistic approach through the tough process.

“We have a rough moment and our emotions are into it, but the next day comes and it’s a bright day, we’re ready to get started and we’re laughing and playing the game,” Anderson said.

With any new coach, there is bound to be an adjustment period. The coach needs to begin understanding the program and its players and the players need to familiarize themselves with the coaching style of their new leader.

McCall made sure to stress that he plans on putting his players first throughout the process of returning UMass to the heights it once attained. Not only was Anderson, a Memphis, Tenn., native happy he finally has a coach with a southern accent, but he really bought into the things that McCall was preaching throughout his address Thursday.

“He sounded like he was really about his business,” Anderson said. “I loved the simple fact that he was talking about family, wants to build relationships and skill development. He’s worked with pros, he’s had pros and that’s what he wants to build us into.”

McCall cited current Oklahoma City Thunder and former Florida coach Billy Donavan as one of his biggest mentors in his life, after spending 11 years working under Donavan during two different stints with the Gators in a multitude of roles.

During his time in Gainesville, McCall helped build up current NBA players like Joakim Noah and Al Horford and played a role in Florida’s back-to-back national titles in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Holloway is hoping McCall can bring that same success to Amherst.

“It gives you a lot of ‘oh’s and ah’s’ hearing that kind of stuff,” Holloway said. “He’s connected. He’s connected to places I want to go.”

A major storyline to keep in mind throughout the offseason will be who, if any, of the current Minutemen may transfer from the program. With any coaching change, there is bound to be mixed feelings, but Holloway thinks the family aspect of the players will deter any of them from leaving Amherst.

“We’re way to close to separate over anything like that,” Holloway said. “Going through the process, it was to just make sure we stay together. We stay together and do everything together. I feel like our bond is bigger than that.”

Anderson believes this type of situation will make the bond between himself and his teammates even stronger.

“What don’t kill you makes you stronger,” Anderson said. “This type of situation, of course, you don’t wish it on anyone, but it happened to us. It’s just as simple as that. You can’t break us.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34

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