Melo: A heck of a year that was cut short

The promising spring semester that never was

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(Parker Peters/ Daily Collegian)

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

This is probably the hardest article I’ve had to write.

It’s been two and a half weeks since the University of Massachusetts shut its doors and went completely online because of the COVID-19 scare. It has also been two and a half weeks since my life was together.

I love sports. I mean, I want to write about them for a living, yes, but I genuinely love sports. A major chunk of my being is my love and passion for them. I have always been a huge fan of basketball and soccer. Those were the sports that I played, and they are the two sports I follow most. Covering both the Massachusetts men’s soccer and basketball teams was a dream come true. I’m proud of the work I produced for both beats and was very much looking forward to closing out my senior year with those two teams.

And then, two and a half weeks ago happened.

The National Basketball Association was suspended on Thursday night. The following day, at 5:30 a.m., I woke up to get ready to go to Brooklyn, New York. At around 6:30 a.m., my fellow men’s basketball beat members Amin Touri, Parker Peters and I went on the road to make the trip to the Barclays Center. The other member of the beat, Frederick Hanna, had backed out of the trip because of his family’s concerns with the virus. We didn’t realize how right their intuition was going to be.

Throughout the trip, Touri mentioned that it would be likely that the tournament was going to be cancelled, but that he hoped to get one game in. That one game was scheduled to tip off at noon and was between UMass, who was the No. 8 seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament after an incredibly fun season that had its ups and downs, and the nine-seeded Virginia Commonwealth.

We made it to Brooklyn and entered the arena. There were no fans in attendance, just media, families and essential personnel. We didn’t have the open locker room access after the games for interviews, just the usual press conference that takes place after the games. It was the first major tournament that I had the chance to cover and I was excited.

Both teams were on the court and the timer ended, so the lineups were about to be announced. That was when Touri noticed UMass Sports Information Director Matt Houde get on the phone and hand it off to coach Matt McCall. McCall proceeded to call his assistant coaches and players toward him and a few short minutes later, the game was called off. The tournament was canceled.

There was a press conference and we did our due diligence as reporters to get all the information out that we possibly could. After that, we canceled our Airbnb and walked over to a pizza place that we had our eyes on before the event. On the outside, I was fine. Inside, I was heartbroken.

And then, we found out that all NCAA tournaments were canceled. After that, all spring sports were canceled. It was over. My time covering sports as a college student was done.

Almost a week before all of this went down, I was at the UMass men’s soccer spring game against North Toronto Soccer Club. It was the beginning of my final run with the team that started my career with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. The game was basically just a scrimmage, one that the Minutemen won, but to me it was just nice to get out there and see the team play again.

After the game, I had a pleasant chat with coach Fran O’Leary. Before the interview actually started, he asked me about my plans after school ended. It was a sign to the rapport that I had built with him in the now two-plus seasons that I covered the team. Little did I know it would be the last time that I would be talking to him as a reporter.

My heart goes out to the rest of the seniors graduating this semester. Whether you’re a student reporter, a student athlete or a student not ready to go out like this, just know that you aren’t alone. This sucks.

I’ll open up about my time with the Collegian in my senior column, which will come out at some point. I will say that since everything that’s happened two weeks ago, a couple of things have happened with the two teams that I covered that haven’t been written about.

For men’s basketball, freshmen CJ Jackson and Sean East and redshirt junior Keon Clergeot all entered the transfer portal. Former Woodstock Academy and Wichita State Noah Fernandes announced his commitment to UMass after entering the transfer portal.

On the men’s soccer side, Ben Shepard, Filippo Begliardi and Jack Englebert all committed to UMass. Some added depth to an already very young team.

In a time like this, it’s important to stay informed as much as you can. Flip over to the news section and stay up to date with the latest information. More than anything, stay safe.

It’s been a pleasure.

Javier Melo can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.