Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Minutemen starting to prepare for season opener

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

With 25 days remaining until the Massachusetts men’s basketball team is scheduled to face Boston College at TD Garden, the team has reached a crossroads in the practice schedule, somewhere in between the initial excitement of a new season and starting to prepare for the Eagles.

“Twenty-five days man, there’s isn’t anything possible left to do except get ready for the season and that first game,” senior forward Raphiael Putney said with a smile before practice Wednesday afternoon.

Balancing the time leading up to game action is a constant juggling act, something coach Derek Kellogg’s managed throughout the preseason. The team has settled into a consistent rhythm, practicing fully for three days in a row followed by a day off.

“The biggest thing is to get the guys to understand how hard we like to play and the pace we like to play at,” Kellogg said. “(We) haven’t got real specific on plays or exacts yet, but more importantly (for the team) is to set the tone on how we do things.”

UMass’ brand of basketball is fast-paced and intense, one that aggressively moves the ball up and down the court. With a stronger non-conference schedule than in years past – the Minutemen are scheduled to face Louisiana State, Brigham Young, Florida State and Providence this year in addition to BC – the focus is on becoming a more complete team.

“In practice, we don’t do some things that traditional basketball teams do, whether it’s as much screening or quite as physical at times,” Kellogg said. “We had to do some drills to make sure that the guys realize the physicality of some of the team’s we’re playing.”

So far, some of the more specialized drills have focused on the defensive side of the ball in both the half-court defense and the press. As the Nov. 10 date with the Eagles draws nearer, more focus will move toward the other side of the ball and the half-court offense, something Kellogg called a “work in progress.”

“When you’re playing as many high level games as we are, or as many good teams, more often than not you’re gonna have longer possessions in the half-court that we have to take advantage of,” he said.

Putney believes the team might already be at an advantage working through offensive sets because of the connection they have with each other.

“I think this year, our team chemistry is a lot better than a couple years ago,” Putney said. “Everybody’s in tune with what we’re gonna do on offense. If we’re not gonna push the ball up as much and be in the half-court, we gotta specialize in our plays and get the job done.”

The addition of sophomore transfer Derrick Gordon figures to add another element to the offense, which it may have lacked a season ago.

“He’s a slasher, he gets in the paint a lot,” Putney said. “That’s able to create for me with his penetration in the paint so all I have to do is spot up and hit shots.”

Kellogg also mentioned that the four freshmen on the roster are making a positive impact on the team as well, integrating well with the older guys while also trying to get minutes of their own. Additional talent vying for minutes adds yet another competitive aspect to practice as the team focuses on more specific options.

“They’re competing at a high level,” Kellogg said. “What I like about a couple of the guys is that they’re out there, but they’re not making a lot of freshman mistakes.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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