Like Father, Like Son: TJ Weeks is carving his own legacy at UMass
“Just trying to live up to the name.”
November 13, 2019
When TJ Weeks catches it in the corner, he doesn’t hesitate.
Collegiate debut, unfamiliar circumstances, close game — doesn’t matter. Preston Santos finds Weeks coming off the baseline, and UMass Lowell’s Connor Withers already has a hand up to contest. The Massachusetts men’s basketball team leads by six with under three minutes to play in the season opener, thanks in large part to Weeks’ 17 points thus far. The River Hawks have learned by now not to leave him open, and Withers does his job, with a hand in Weeks’ face before he even catches it.
It doesn’t matter. Weeks lets it fly anyway, and drills it. Nine-point game.
He’s not alone on opening night — a few feet away, behind TJ and to his left, sits his family. His mother Kim, his brother Tyriek; his father Tyrone is between them, watching his namesake light it up in his very first college basketball game.
It’s a familiar setting for Tyrone. For four years, he’d put on that UMass jersey and played on that Mullins Center floor, a role player at the tail end of the John Calipari era in Amherst and a rock-solid big man for the first two seasons of Bruiser Flint’s tenure. Two decades later, Tyrone Jr. is putting on a show.
The next time down, the left corner is a soft spot in Lowell’s zone. Obadiah Noel is a beat late rotating to Weeks open in the corner. Big mistake. Tyriek leaps from his seat in the front row as his brother’s shot goes down. The lead stretches to 12, and the game never gets any closer.
Weeks finishes the first chapter of his collegiate career with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 4-of-6 from three, with two blocks and two steals to boot. He looks as confident as a freshman can be; in truth, he wasn’t.
“I was so nervous,” Weeks says. “Just because I just wanted to play well in front of [my family]. It was really my first time playing in front of that many people, so I was extremely nervous playing for something that mattered, that counted, in front of that many people and my parents.”
In 27 electric minutes, he sees the expectations — the pre-season hype, the pressure of playing for his father’s alma mater — and rises above them. It’s about time he got his due.
The heat checks aren’t exactly new. During his prep year at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut, Weeks had a couple: 28 points on 7-of-11 from three against Redemption Christian Academy — in which he hit all seven threes in one half — was a highlight, a 37-point performance on 8-of-9 from deep against Commonwealth Academy was another.
That’s what the prep year did for Weeks: he needed the confidence to take those shots, and a year at Woodstock made that happen.
“I think, especially with the 3-point shot, it let him know that he can shoot them in the games,” Tyrone says. “For years, people have been saying shoot it, shoot it, shoot it — now, you play against bigger guys and you’ve got to spread the floor, so he’s able to shoot the ball. The year at prep school showed him he can shoot the ball in the games, too.”
The year at Woodstock followed Weeks’ high school career in Rhode Island, the final two years of which he spent leading Bishop Hendricken to back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018. En route to that second state title, Weeks was a tour de force, dropping 29 points to sink Cranston East in the quarterfinals, 30 to put away Cumberland in the semis and 20 points to help Bishop Hendricken wrap up a three-peat. Future Woodstock and UMass teammate Preston Santos had led the Hawks to a state title in 2016 — Weeks arrived a year later and led them to two more.
“I’d consider that probably my best basketball memories,” he says. “Both seasons going through that… I don’t know how to explain it. It was amazing.”
He was the man in Rhode Island: First Team All-State in multiple publications, averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. But in that setting, he had to do it all. Score, facilitate, defend, rebound; at that level, that’s what’s needed of a star. To find his natural position — and get the looks he needed — he headed to Woodstock.
“In high school he was probably the biggest or second-biggest thing on his team, so he had to do so many different things,” says UMass assistant coach Tony Bergeron, Weeks’ head coach at Woodstock. “Rebound, defend bigger guys. Also, playing Rhode Island high school basketball, you don’t have that large stage. Once he got to Woodstock, obviously he’s over-exposed there — 380 college kids in our gym in a year, so exposure’s not an issue — and then he got to go ahead and play his natural position at shooting guard.”
A one-day Hoop Group session was the catalyst for Weeks’ arrival. A Woodstock coach spotted him during scrimmages at the end of the day and handed him a Woodstock card. Weeks made a visit, met Bergeron and the team, and knew it was a fit: “I really liked it from the first day I went there,” Weeks says.
It wasn’t a perfect start at Woodstock, with a stress fracture keeping Weeks sidelined until December. Bergeron held him out until January to make sure he was ready, but once he let Weeks loose, the big-time performances followed.
“He fit in really well quickly,” Bergeron says. “He got there, and then he was hurt, so he got to really just learn the system and watch it go, so when it was time to insert him, he knew it. When he was able to get on the floor, his first game he had like eight points, couple of steals — it took him maybe one or two games to get flowing, but TJ had a stretch last year of five straight games where he scored 20 points by the half.”
“He’s always been a good 3-point shooter,” Tyrone says, “and we always said, ‘Why not [shoot] in the games?’ TJ’s one of those types of players where he’ll do what the coaches ask him to do, and last year at prep school they needed him to shoot more threes.”
He put up 13 points a game on just over 41 percent shooting from three at Woodstock, as the offers started coming in. Bergeron says the “under-the-radar, under-recruited” narrative isn’t true; once Weeks got rolling, he tore the prep scene up, and the buzz started quickly.
Eventually, UMass popped up on the radar.
“After that,” Weeks says, “it was kind of a no-brainer for me to come here.”
Tyrone Weeks sits high in the stands at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut at halftime of the UMass-Fairfield game, the second of the year. TJ hasn’t gotten rolling as of yet, having finished the first half of his second game scoreless, and the Minutemen trail 31-24 at the break. “I’m not sure what the hell they’re doing on offense,” Tyrone laments. “But they’ll figure it out.” He’s right, and UMass puts up 38 points in the second half in a comeback win sparked by three second-half triples from TJ
At 6-foot-8, Tyrone’s tough to miss, his long legs a bit cramped in the middle of the row. He’s 45 now, 21 years removed from his last appearance in maroon. He was the steadiest of big men, putting up double-digit point totals and pulling down 8.8 rebounds in each of his final two seasons in Amherst, as part of very good UMass frontcourt alongside Lari Ketner.
Tyrones Jr. and Sr. share very little in terms of their respective games. TJ’s potential lies in his finesse and his shooting; Tyrone was a bull in a china shop.
TJ was never the biggest kid in his age group and had to craft his game accordingly. Tyrone was an assistant coach at a couple different schools throughout TJ’s childhood, from St. Bonaventure to Rhode Island and Marist, and taught his son the game.
“He’s the one that taught me everything I know,” TJ says of his father. “As I grew up, I wasn’t getting as tall as the other kids, so he transformed my game to being more of a wing and guard than a big in the post.”
“TJ’s a typical son of a coach, where he’s been in the gym with other players, playing one-on-one with different types of players,” Tyrone says. “His game has mimicked those players, so he’s not defined by a position. He’s a basketball player, he can play any position because he knows the game.”
UMass was always a part of TJ’s childhood, even if it wasn’t always his primary rooting interest. The reality of having a coach as a father means rooting for whichever team he’s coaching, but TJ knew where his father had played, and how much it meant to him.
After the Minutemen extended an offer in April, one visit was all it took. The Weeks family made the trip to Amherst, a trip down memory lane for Tyrone and Kim. They’d met at a party freshman year, and both graduated from UMass. They still know their old spots, the campus not having changed much in the two decades since they were undergrads. With their oldest leaving the nest, the familiarity helps.
“That’s one of the biggest fears as a parent,” Tyrone says. “You don’t know when your kid goes to school where they’re going to go, but TJ going to UMass, I know a lot of the faculty and staff there, still friends with a lot of people there. They’re able to watch over him for us, and make sure he’s on the right path and taking care of business.”
It’s a more familiar environment for TJ than most, anyways: with two former Woodstock teammates in Santos and Tre Mitchell and his prep coach in Bergeron, he’s not alone to figure things out. It also helps to have a natural mentor in Carl Pierre, a veteran with a similar game to learn from. Weeks and Pierre go back a few years, having played AAU ball together with Metro Boston. Weeks played up a year and played in Pierre’s age group, years before they were reunited in Amherst.
“The Woodstock guys, plus Carl played with us AAU, and that’s the thing,” Tyrone says. “TJ’s transition to UMass has been wonderful because of the people he’d known before he got there.”
Pierre’s work ethic is common knowledge at this point, something he’s trying to pass on. Pierre introduced Weeks to his grueling shooting routine on The Gun over the summer — 1,000 shots in the morning, 500 makes in the evening. The two shoot together as often as they can, trying to get in the gym every night if possible.
“He’s been very helpful,” Weeks says of Pierre. “He shows me the ins and outs, and he works hard. He’s always in the gym, and I follow him, so I have to take his work ethic too, so I’ve got to always be in the gym. So, when I’m older, I can teach the younger guys to have the same work ethic that he does.”
“I’ve known TJ for four, five years now,” Pierre says. “We’ve been close for a while, and it’s nothing new, it’s like AAU days again. I’m just trying to get him up to speed, tell him the little nuances of playing at this level and things like that.”
Along with Pierre and his Woodstock teammates, it helps that Weeks is one of seven freshmen all trying to figure it out. They spent much of the summer together, on and off the court. A few rivalries have arisen over games of NBA 2K, with each player backing themselves as the best on the sticks. Weeks, Mitchell and fellow freshman C.J. Jackson debated the issue after practice in October while Mitchell fielded questions from the media. Weeks has no interest in backing down.
“We can do it, we can hold a tournament, whatever, but I’m already telling you, I’m going to win,” Weeks says. “During the summer, it was a regular thing to play 2K, and I won every time.
“The one that I’d say is a close second is Tre — C.J. is trash.”
UMass has been a good fit, and it was from day one. Weeks took the visit and committed the following day. He knew. His parents were supportive, and TJ had the final say, but they were expectedly ecstatic when he made the choice.
“It was wonderful, just the fact that he was going to be at UMass where we both attended school,” Tyrone says. “My wife’s family is from Springfield, and everybody who watched him grow up gets to watch him play at the place I played at, and those people actually watched me play there. It’s the craziest feeling.”
“When I got here, they were showing me the places they knew,” TJ adds.
“And they were like ‘it’ll be home. It’s home for you here.'”
“Thank the Lord for Charlton Clarke.”
Tyrone Weeks never flashed much range, a career 0-for-2 shooter from 3-point range in four years at UMass. He had to show some on his Senior Day back in 1998, with the Minutemen needing overtime to dispatch St. Joseph’s in his final appearance on the Mullins floor.
UMass only got there thanks to some late-game heroics from Clarke, who hit three 3-pointers in the final five minutes to get the Minutemen to overtime, before the elder Weeks wrapped up his Mullins career in memorable fashion. He buried a 15-footer with eight seconds left to put the Hawks away, a perfect farewell to an arena and a crowd that had meant so much to him. He thanked the Lord for Charlton Clarke in his postgame interview, and stepped off the Mullins floor for the final time.
Two decades later, the buzzer sounds on TJ’s first performance in Amherst, and the Weeks family, tucked in the corner behind the UMass bench, begins their celebrations. It’s a dream debut, and the start of a new chapter for the Weeks family. TJ’s game is nothing like Tyrone’s — in one game, the younger Weeks had already attempted three times as many triples as his father did in his career — but they share a deep-rooted connection to the program.
Tyrone watches on, thrilled to be back in the building where he’d built so many memories. From his seat, he can see the spot where he’d hit his final shot on that floor. It’s been 21 years since that mid-range jumper, just a few feet from the 3-point line behind which TJ was so deadly. With “Weeks Jr.” on the back of his jersey, TJ was the star on opening night.
“It was some unbelievable emotions that I’d never experienced before,” Tyrone says. “I was so happy to see TJ out there, and the simple fact of him being out there, playing for UMass with his name on the back of the jersey was a wonderful feeling.”
TJ is summoned to the broadcast table on the far sideline for a radio interview, and Kim almost leaps out of her chair as she pulls out her phone to film her son’s big moment from across the court. It’s probably not the last time TJ will put on a performance worthy of an appearance on the airways.
Bergeron’s convinced that TJ will be a pro someday, that he’s certainly good enough to make money playing the game. He’s challenged his freshman recently to become a defensive stopper like he was at Woodstock, to become a real two-way player at this level.
“At the end of the day, there’s two major things people are paying people to be millionaires for right now: rebounding and shooting,” says Bergeron. “If you can do those things, you can find a place to play. He’s young, he’s got a lot of games, he’s got a lot of time, he’s going to thrive in coach McCall’s offenses. He’s a pro.
“I always tell him, ‘TJ, you’re going to be a pro. What country you play in depends a lot on what you do here at UMass.'”
While his son continues his adjustment to college, Tyrone’s still catching up with folks in the area, seeing people he hasn’t seen since the ‘90s. They all remember him, they all know his son by now, and they’ve done what they can to ease the transition.
“So many people that are here that have been working here for a while, they know my dad,” TJ says. “So, they’ll be like, ‘You’re Weeks’ kid.’ It just feels like home here.”
TJ jogs down the tunnel and into the locker room, before meeting his parents in the hallway. They’re as thrilled and as proud as can be. TJ has to finish up one more press conference before his night is done, and he heads into the green room at Mullins.
“We’re just keeping him grounded,” Tyrone says. “Letting him know that this is his time. My time has passed, and now it’s time for him to carve his own legacy in UMass history.”
With his family behind him, and familiar faces everywhere, it’s TJ Weeks’ time to shine. He held up his end of the bargain on opening night.
“I’m feeling great,” he said after his debut. “[To] just go out there and play good in front of my parents that went here.”
He has his own personal goal, but he keeps it to himself. It’s something his mom set for him, something he’d prefer not to publicize and jinx. His goal on opening night, though, was simple.
“Just trying to live up to the name.”
Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.