The theme of the last seven months has been change. Whether that be at the head coaching position, team personnel or with the players, change can be seen everywhere.
The firing of coach Derek Kellogg following the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s elimination in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament had a snowball effect on the program.
In following months UMass veterans such as Donte Clark, Zach Coleman and Seth Berger decided they would be better off at other schools, the same went for recent UMass transfer Zach Lewis. Freshmen DeJon Jarreau, Brison Gresham, Ty Flowers also left after only one season.
While the loss was significant, new head coach Matt McCall didn’t lose everyone. Players like junior Malik Hines, sophomore Chris Baldwin and senior C.J. Anderson decided it was in their best interest to stay in Amherst. Now, players who have to this point been waiting for their opportunity believe that they have it. This is why they decided to stay in Amherst.
Rashaan Holloway casts a big shadow, and it’s one Malik Hines has operated in since the two big men were freshmen back in 2015-16.
After a freshman campaign that was cut short with a broken foot, Hines played in 31 games a season ago, starting five of them and averaging 11.5 minutes on the floor. The 6-foot-10 forward saw most of his minutes under Derek Kellogg as a back-up at the five spot, but in the first two games of this season, he has shared time on the floor with Holloway, giving Hines some time at the four.
Hines would see his role elevate almost immediately under McCall—partially due to his own determination and partially due to bad luck on behalf of a teammate. Nearly five weeks before the Minutemen began their season against UMass Lowell, Rashaan Holloway broke his thumb, requiring him to sit out of practice. Having assumed the role of primary big man for the majority of preseason practices, McCall rewarded Hines with giving him the start on opening night.
However, Hines didn’t need Holloway’s injury to push on him a larger role with the team.
“Rashaan being out and all that, that definitely called on me to step up more. But as far as taking a new leadership role, I kind of took that once McCall stepped in,” Hines said. “I wouldn’t say I’m taking that role because Rashaan’s out, he’s coming back, it’s not like we’re losing him for the rest of the year. I will say that since he [was] down I’ve pushed myself to just give more than what I was given, to talk more so I’ve just been more urgent.”
McCall has taken notice of Hines value on and off the court.
“I think Malik has been great, I think he’s been a guy that is extremely reliable, McCall said. “Malik knows what’s going on out on the floor, he knows pick-and-roll coverages, he knows what to do and that center spot, that power forward spot, that has to anchor your defense. I felt in our scrimmage last Saturday, completely comfortable when he was in the game and I thought he did a good job.”
As a four-star recruit from Springfield, Massachusetts, Chris Baldwin was expected to be one of the key pieces to a star-studded freshman class a year ago.
It ultimately would not turn out that way as the 6-foot-8 forward found himself not starting a single game, and averaging 9.4 minutes and 2.2 points.
However, like Hines, Baldwin sees the opportunity amidst all the uncertainty.
“I see a spectacular opportunity, not only for myself, but for the guys that did stick around,” Baldwin said. “I see we all have the same type of mindset and the same goal ahead of us and I think that did stay; we got a lot of things in common.”
Baldwin began to reap the benefits of that opportunity early, starting opening night against the River Hawks. However, the sophomore only ended up playing 19 minutes in that game and 14 minutes two days later against Harvard.
With the exception of graduate students, transfers are forced to sit out a year per NCAA rules—the catch to a deal Baldwin didn’t want to make.
It has been three years since he was a freshman, but Anderson can finally say “they’ve unleashed the beast.”
There has always been somebody ahead of C.J. Anderson, whether it was Trey Davis, Jabarie Hinds or Donte Clark. Anderson was always forced to play a specific role; over the years he has proven his versatility, seeing time on the floor at the one, two, three and four.
Having finished with a winning record only once in his time at UMass and the amount of change that has occurred in the program over the past seven months, it would make sense for the now-senior to try his luck elsewhere. But Anderson decided to stay.
“I’m just a believer, I believe in the impossible,” Anderson said. “My mom and dad always told me, believe in God and anything is possible. I told my guys the first day of summer session, I said ‘look man it’s been rough for me, people telling me do this people telling me do that, man but I trust ya’ll, I believe in ya’ll, why not.’ That’s what I live by, why not shock the world. I came back, it’s not just for myself, I’m a team player and I’m just here for my guys and I really just start to coach them.”
McCall has credited Anderson for his professionalism throughout the chaos of this past summer and fall and has put his trust in Anderson by playing him more than 30 minutes in each of the season’s first two games. In return, Anderson scored nine points vs. the River Hawks and 12 points vs. Harvard.
Along with making a commitment to himself, Anderson feels committed to helping those on the team whose time at UMass will outlive his.
“Making them leaders as well, it’s not just about me. If I’m on somebody, I want that same guy to be on me as well and that’s the only way we’re going to get anywhere.
“Honestly, of course we’re looking at this year and getting prepared for this year, but I mean, man, the future is bright for me and my team. So I’m really just trying to get them ready for this year and for next year so they can do their thing as well.”
Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.