Buying into “The Brotherhood”

By Taylor C. Snow

Strolling around campus, eating at Berkshire Dining Commons, practicing at the Mullins Center, heading home to the North Apartments — they are almost never alone.

The chemistry that the Massachusetts men’s basketball team shares is noticeable, and its unique bond has earned its team members a catchy title. To spectators, they may be just known as the Minutemen, but to the men donning the maroon and white jerseys, they are “The Brotherhood.”

Not any collegiate basketball player can walk into the Mullins Center expecting to become a part of “The Brotherhood.” One must have qualities, such as selflessness, respect and maturity, and each member has to buy into the concept from Day One.

As newcomers to the Minutemen, Tyler Bergantino and Derrick Gordon have learned to buy into the principles of “The Brotherhood.” Unknown to much of the student body, the pair has accepted its role, providing verbal energy and support from the bench. They’re barely noticed by fans, but play a substantial role in the success of the team.

Settling in at UMass

Gordon, a sophomore transfer from Western Kentucky, has been ineligible to play this season per NCAA transfer rules, but he has proven that he can compete at a high level.

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

A standout three-year starter for Saint Patrick’s High School in New Jersey, Gordon helped lead one of the top teams in the country alongside now-NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

As a freshman at Western Kentucky last year, he led the team in scoring, rebounds and minutes played, while also earning NCAA Tournament experience as the Hilltoppers made it to the second round last March, before being knocked out by Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky.

When he arrived in Amherst last summer, Gordon thought performing well in the gym would translate into being accepted by the team. But to become a part of “The Brotherhood,” it takes more than just basketball skills.

“It was all about just fitting in when I first got here,” Gordon said. “I felt I proved myself on the court, but off the court I’m kind of quiet. Over the summer we had group meetings and I was told I need to talk more, hang with the team more, and I’ve gotten better with that.”

Bergantino came to UMass a 6-foot-9, 250-pound timid freshman from a Class 4A technical high school in Florida. And like Gordon, he too has gotten over his shyness and has opened up to the team.

“It kind of takes me awhile to warm my motor up,” he said. “I eventually realized that my sense of humor (fits in with the team) and once I got comfortable off the court with the guys, it made me feel more comfortable on the court.”

Gordon and Bergantino now share with the team the same chemistry that formulates “The Brotherhood,” but nothing can compare to the bond that the two share together on a daily basis.

Forming a bond

The first thing Gordon and Bergantino had in common was the newness of coming to UMass. They began texting each other every day during the summer, and when it came time to pick roommates, the arrangement was mutual.

But their natural shyness kicked in when the two arrived at their room in John Quincy Adams Hall (the team’s underclassmen generally live in Southwest while the upperclassmen live in the North Apartments) and awkwardly introduced themselves before quietly beginning the unpacking process.

“We didn’t even talk for like the first four hours,” laughed Bergantino. “But we finally got out of our room and after that we kind of just took off, especially when we realized we have a lot in common.”

The two bonded over their love for music (Justin Bieber) and their interest in movies, as they would go to the local theater three or four times per week during the summer.

That interest even inspired them to create their own YouTube series, “The Derrick Gordon and Tyler Bergantino Chronicles.”

The show began as the two were back-to-school shopping in the Hampshire Mall, when Bergantino nonchalantly picked up his phone and began filming them walking around the mall.

Gordon had never been a camera-savvy person, but Bergantino grew up with a love for making videos, and had him play along with the idea.

“I’ve been making movies since I was four years old,” Bergantino said. “I used to do puppet shows with my stuffed animals and stuff like that. I’ve always liked being in front of the camera.”

The two completed 14 videos with ranging themes from imaginary friends, to a parody of the “Paranormal Activity” movie series. Due to the time-consuming basketball season, they have not produced a video since Nov. 22, but Gordon — who now seems just as enthused by the series as Bergantino, if not more — promises that they will be posting new videos soon.

“We seriously are going to do one, we’ve been recording stuff and we just gotta put it together,” Gordon said. “We always talk about it in our room like every night, (saying) ‘we need to make another one.’”

Bonding over their interests, such as the Chronicles, the two consider themselves to be brothers within “The Brotherhood.” Gordon describes their relationship as a “bromance.”

But no matter how close they are, sometimes they need to reach out to their other teammates for help, whether it’s Gordon needing assistance in his mental approach to making it through a year of not playing, or Bergantino with his confidence and physical approach.

Williams leading by example

As the 2012-13 season began, Gordon began to struggle mentally. He felt helpless as he rode the bench for the first time in his life due to the transfer rules.

“It’s weird. I’ve never had to sit out a whole season,” Gordon said. “Especially being on the second unit on the scout team. That’s something I’ve never had to do.”

Gordon’s frustration built as he sat on the sideline, itching to get on the court, especially as he watched his team lose games without him.

“After every game I talk to my mom and some nights — honestly, I never talk about this — but some nights I cried just because I’ve got so much passion for this game and (I’m not able to play),” Gordon said.

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

Junior guard Chaz Williams noticed Gordon’s unhappiness, and as the floor general and one of the team’s primary leaders, he stepped in with advice.

“It’s been tough for him, and at some points he just wanted to go in the tank and close the door and be away from everybody,” Williams said.

As a transfer student from Hofstra, Williams had to sit out the year after his freshman season as well, so he understands Gordon’s struggle.

“(At the time,) my mom told me it would be a year to make me or break me,” Williams said. “I tried to make it a year that I could work on my weaknesses. It was a new beginning for me to start over.

“I tell (Derrick) to treat every practice like it’s a game. I push him all the time.”

Williams’ advice has helped Gordon get through the season, as he has taken this year as a learning experience.

“When I was hitting my wall I was texting him and calling him,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘Yo, this isn’t easy. I’m sure it wasn’t for you, but I don’t like what’s going on. I don’t like sitting out.’

“He’s always been there, he’s always told me to just stay in the gym, it’s all going to be good next year, it’s all going to work out.”

Bergantino gains confidence, physicality

Going from a Division 4A technical high school to Division I college basketball, Bergantino’s transition has not entirely smooth, as he’s struggled to maintain his confidence.

In high school he was overwhelmingly dominant. He said at times there would be a box of four players guarding him at once. But once he hit the big stage — the Mullins Center court — he was hit with reality.

“In the beginning, my gosh … In the beginning that’s when I was missing all those free throws because I got the ball and was (shaking),” Bergantino said. “You come out and see yourself on the big screens and it just like ‘Oh my gosh, this is it.’”

It’s taken time for Bergantino to adjust, but he’s learned from UMass’ other big man, Cady Lalanne, who has helped him gain an aggressive nature.

“Cady has really shown me a lot,” Bergantino said. “He doesn’t just tell me to do this and do that, he shows me. The aggressiveness that he plays with, I want to have that next year.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg has seen Bergantino’s confidence rise over the course of the season.

“I think for a little while he was kind of nervous to get in the game and it wasn’t that important to him to get in,” he said “Now he wants to get in and help the team. He’s gotten more confident and I think now he finally thinks he should be playing.”

Chemistry remains key

Though seldom in the spotlight this year, Bergantino and Gordon have begun to make their mark as members of “The Brotherhood.” According to Kellogg, the bench players hold a critical role in keeping the team chemistry alive.

“It’s all about energy,” Kellogg said. “You want those guys that aren’t playing as much to pump you up, and that’s enabled guys like Tyler and Derrick and (freshman) Trey (Davis) to feel a part of the team and the program.”

Even star players like Williams need support from his teammates on the bench.

“We know you can’t do anything by yourself in this type of world,” he said. “It translates in basketball both in games and off the court. We just always stick together. We’re brothers and we’re our only family up here.”

And as a veteran member of the team, Williams knows how important it is to welcome newcomers into “The Brotherhood.”

“We try to show them that we’re all here for them, we’re all chasing a dream and we’re all on the same page,” he said. “As the young guys come in, they all understand that we’re all brothers pushing for one another.”

As the season comes to a close, it appears Williams and the rest of the veterans have done their job implementing the concept of “The Brotherhood” into the minds of newcomers such as Gordon and Bergantino, who each believe the off-the-court bond is what holds the core of the team.

“I think (our) chemistry is going to allow us to not only work hard for ourselves, but work hard for our brothers,” Bergantino said. “At the end of the day we all want to see each other succeed and the only way we can do that is by making ourselves better.”

Taylor C. Snow can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.