Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball looks to blend youth and veteran leadership in 2016-17

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

The last time the Massachusetts men’s basketball team walked off the court in a competitive basketball game, it was on the losing end of an 85-70 defeat at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Not only did that loss signify the end of UMass’ season, but it also signified the end of offensive stalwarts Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds’ Minutemen career, along with center Tyler Bergantino.

With the recruiting class UMass has brought in for the 2016-17 season, the Minutemen look well on their way to replacing the talent and minutes of last year’s graduating class.

UMass brings in five freshmen this offseason, along with guard Luwane Pipkins, a four-star recruit, who sat out last season due to academic ineligibility. The group is highlighted by two four-star recruits, DeJon Jarreau and Chris Baldwin, along with three three-star recruits in Unique McLean, Tyrn Flowers and Brison Gresham.

Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg, who enters his ninth year at the helm of the UMass program, has been impressed with the play of the freshmen in early practices, but knows they have a long way to go to reach their potential.

“Their propensity to work harder for a longer amount of time has gotten better,” Kellogg said of the freshmen’s progression early on. “I think they’ve started to realize that to win in college or to beat somebody, you have to beat them in all aspects of the game. It needs to be from the defensive end to the transition game to the half court that I have to outwork this guy. If you can work equal or outwork someone then the talent factor will take over.”

Of the five freshmen, Jarreau has gotten the most attention. Coming out of New Orleans, the guard was ranked as the second best player in the state of Louisiana and 63rd in the nation according to ESPN. Most people expect him to make a big impact early in his time in Amherst whether he is playing on or off the ball.

“He’s got a good demeanor about him both on and off the ball,” Kellogg said. “For a guy who has come into UMass with some pretty high accolades, he’s been able to acclimate to the team. I don’t think he’s tried to overwhelm anybody with his personality or his clippings by any stretch. I think the guys that come in to watch can see that he has a chance to be a special player down the line.”

However the freshmen aren’t the only ones expected to make an impact this year. The Minutemen return a talented group from last year’s team led by junior guard Donte Clark, who averaged 16.1 points per game. Sophomore center Rashaan Holloway slimmed down in the offseason and looks to make a big difference for UMass as well this year. Juniors C.J. Anderson, Seth Berger and Zach Coleman, who all saw starting time in stretches last season also return to the Minutemen.

With so much youth on the Minutemen roster, Berger knows it will be important for the older guys to provide leadership for the freshmen, who are just beginning their college basketball careers.

“I remember when we came in here my freshman year having those older guys to look up to,” Berger said. “We want to do the same thing for the younger guys. We just try to lead by example. We can talk and do all that, but I think the best part is letting them visually see how hard we go, how much we communicate on the court, but off the court as well.”

Coming off a 14-18 (6-12 Atlantic 10) finish last season, UMass was picked to finish 10th in the A-10 preseason poll. UMass is dedicated to proving they are better than what the rankings indicate.

“We’re definitely better than 10,” McLean said. “We’re trying to finish in that top three, top five. We definitely have the talent. Everybody’s versatile.”

With the amount of talent at his disposal that he hasn’t seen in his time with the Minutemen, Kellogg is not going to confine himself to any specific starting lineup going into the season. Rather, he wants to feel it out and see who matches up the best.

“I’d like to see the different kind of lineups. I’m not sure who I’ll start quite yet,” Kellogg said. “I want to do what’s best for this team and this program of playing regardless of age, style that we’re putting the best lineup out there at all times.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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