Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Putney coming into own over recent stretch

By Jay Asser

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Skinny or not, Raphiael Putney has become a weapon late in the season for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

The redshirt freshman has turned himself into a viable option off the bench for UMass coach, Derek Kellogg, after proving his development over the past two games.

“Sometimes it takes a little longer than we all want, but he’s starting to come into his own,” Kellogg said of Putney. “We saw flashes of it against Central Florida and a few other games, but he’s starting to put together back-to-back-to-back practices and games one after another which is definitely benefiting the team and I think it’s going to benefit him as an individual as he matures here.”

In a loss against Duquesne on Feb. 16, Putney, along with freshman guard Jesse Morgan, sparked a Minutemen (14-11, 6-6 Atlantic 10) comeback which eventually fell short. Nevertheless, Putney recorded 10 points and tied his career-high with nine rebounds, just missing his first career double-double.

The following game, with UMass trying to break its four-game losing streak, Putney once again injected energy with 11 points in 19 minutes to help the Minutemen win 66-60 over conference rival Rhode Island. Nine of Putney’s points came in the second half, including a stretch of seven-straight during a 23-6 run by UMass to take a 49-39 lead after trailing by nine at halftime.

More so than his overall numbers, Putney’s value lies in providing energy. On several occasions this season, Putney has done just that with exciting alley oops and plays which draw the crowd’s attention.

“When he’s playing energized and coming up with some of those plays that he comes up with, I think the whole team gets energized and everybody feels a little bit better,” Kellogg said.

“I think I bring a lot of positive energy to the team off the bench,” Putney said. “I’m just working my way up. I bring a lot of energy and motivation off the picks to help my team on the run, so I guess just keep bringing it at practice and work hard.”

The 6-foot, 8-inch forward stands tall and slim at 180 pounds. While it may be difficult to see, Putney has continuously worked at putting weight on his slender frame. That was one reason why redshirting in his first year as a student at UMass made so much sense.

“You get stronger and just grade-wise, you keep on top of your grades,” Putney said. “Important thing for me was to get stronger.”

“A lot of times at places like UMass and other places that have been successful at this level, redshirting guys is kind of the way to do it,” Kellogg said. “Sometimes that can make up for not being able to get some of the top 50 or 25 or 30 or 40 recruits.”

One player in a similar situation as Putney was last year is freshman Maxie Esho. Despite entering this season as UMass’ top recruit, the forward has not seen game-action and is redshirting the year.

The 6-foot, 8-inch, 200-pound forward has similar abilities as Putney with great athleticism and length. As a recruit, Esho was given a 90 grade by ESPNU, which analyzed him as having “a ton of potential and upside,” but needing “to get significantly stronger.”

That analysis sounds equivalent to what many have said of Putney. As someone who has been in that situation and redshirted his first year, Putney can relate to Esho.

“He’s having a tough time [but] I’m going to talk to him and tell him it’s going to be good,” Putney said. “It helped me.”

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]

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