Demetrius Dyson remains hopeful despite rocky start to season

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian
Photo by Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian

Demetrius Dyson took to the practice floor at the Curry Hicks Cage, dead set on digging himself out of a hole in which he, at least partially, created for himself.

This season has been a struggle for Dyson, who often finds himself the last player off the bench for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team. He’s averaging 5.5 minutes per game and failed to play in two of UMass’ 10 games this season.

It’s a far cry from the role many expected Dyson to fill, especially after he leapfrogged fellow freshmen Seth Berger and Clyde Santee in Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg’s rotation in crucial games at the end of last season.

So there was Dyson, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound swing forward, matched up against 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward Maxie Esho, arguably the team’s most athletic player, in a rebounding drill. It was a mid-week practice in preparation for Florida Gulf Coast and the coaching staff put a “bubble” lid on the top of the basket, meaning every shot would create a rebound.

Assistant coach Andy Allison lined the pair up and put up a shot, and Dyson and Esho scratched, clawed and positioned themselves for the rebound. They would do this until one of them earned three rebounds.

Considerably undersized, Dyson attacked the ball aggressively as Esho worked to push him away from the basket. Dyson hustled to a rebound. Then he grabbed another, reeling it down with one hand as he essentially climbed Esho’s back, much to the chagrin of his teammates who crowded the baseline under the hoop watching the drill. It was one of the most intense rounds of the entire drill, and Dyson more than held his own.

He had no other choice.

“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes,” Dyson said. “If it’s a rebounding drill, I try to transfer it to the game. I was going against Maxie, a much bigger guy. But I’m not looking at the size of a guy. I’m just trying to go out and do whatever it takes to win.”

According to Kellogg, it was Dyson’s performance in similar practices before the season started that began his slide down the depth chart.

“I thought in our preseason practice some guys outplayed him, played a little better than him leading up to our first couple games,” Kellogg said.

“I was going to play who I thought had the best preseason practices. He was good, but I thought a few of the other guys played a little bit better. When you get in that pecking order or who is going in next, I kind of look back on who was better in practice.”

When Dyson did get opportunities, he didn’t make the best of them.

Long regarded as one of the team’s best shooters from practice, Dyson struggled to create much offense in limited action and was prone to turnovers. The lack of playing time combined with an even smaller sample of productivity created a vicious cycle for the sophomore, which often left him hesitant and hanging his head. Left without the answers, or the ability to prove himself, Dyson called his parents for help.

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

“I called them and told them I feel like I’m losing my drive for playing and practicing,” Dyson said. “They told me you can’t do that. You have to be ready for when your time comes.”

“It really is hard because you hang your head because you might not be able to transfer what you’re doing in practice to the game. I got my chance to prove myself a little bit, and it will carry over to the next game.”

Dyson’s shown signs of breaking out of his slump over his last two games.

Against FGCU, he scored four points in four minutes. The next game, against Canisius, he scored seven points in eight minutes. Perhaps more importantly, he worked his way into Kellogg’s in-game rotation and was 2-of-2 on 3-pointers. It was a welcomed sign for both coach and player.

“It felt pretty good,” Dyson said. “I think I can carry it over to every game, not just one game. I’m trying to earn myself more time and it felt pretty good to see the ball go through the hole and keep proving people wrong who think I can’t play the game of basketball from the beginning of the season.”

“To see him come in and chip in, at least you know he’s still with you mentally,” Kellogg said. “He’s still involved and engaged and wants to try and help this team.”

Ultimately, if Dyson wants to remain a fixture off the bench, consistency and efficiency will be key. Kellogg’s cited his ability to make 3-pointers and provide defense on the wing as ways he’ll stay on the court. That is, if Dyson can keep from hanging his head.

“I think he definitely has the ability,” Kellogg said. “I think at times he doesn’t play as well as he can. I think he’s figured out ‘Let’s just go play, let loose a little bit.’ And try to make some things happen instead of being conservative.”

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