Ronnie DeGray III and Javohn Garcia rising to the challenge of their freshman seasons

Freshman duo combining for 19.2 points per contest

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

As Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes heal up from injuries for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, the freshman duo of Ronnie DeGray III and Javohn Garcia is poised for more playing time.

Despite having not practiced at all last week due to COVID-19 contact tracing, DeGray III still opted to suit up for the Minutemen (6-4, 5-2 Atlantic 10) against Fordham. In the victory, he added eight points, four rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in just 21 minutes of work.

Garcia started for the first time since Dec. 30 in place of the missing Fernandes and finished with a team-high 14 points along with five assists, a pair of blocks and three steals.

While the Minutemen are certainly not as deep or star-studded without the T. Mitchell and Fernandes duo, its no shocker that the two former Atlantic 10 Rookies of the Week are stepping up.

“Javohn played at Brewster Academy with so many high-major players but whenever he was in the game, he was impacting the game,” head coach Matt McCall said. “His team played well when he was on the floor. We knew exactly what we were getting.”

“I thought [DeGray III] was ready even without that year at prep school,” McCall continued. “He had a phenomenal summer going into his prep year and I was nervous. I thought he was going to be a high-major player. That’s how good he is and that’s how well he played.”

The skillsets of DeGray III and Garcia have complimented T. Mitchell and the rest of the UMass roster all season long. With injuries plaguing the team, the play of the duo has gained importance.

DeGray III is an offensive minded four with the ability to make tough passes and step out to hit jumpers. His ultra-smooth shooting stroke translates well beyond the arc, where he’s converted 7-of-15 shots. DeGray III currently ranks fourth in the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage at 58.6 percent.

“[DeGray III] can create plays, he’s so talented, he’s got such high basketball IQ,” said McCall. “I’m not at all shocked with how well those two guys are playing.”

Javohn Garcia
Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Though Garcia started four of the first five Minutemen games this season, McCall shifted him to a sixth man role recently, opting for a more defensive starting lineup featuring Dibaji Walker. Though he was averaging just south of seven points per game in the last four contests coming off the bench, the matchup versus Fordham was a reminder of his scoring talent.

Garcia has a silky stroke from three, able to shoot off the dribble for a 37.5 percent clip beyond the arc this season. He also has an innate driving ability, making him a willing scorer at all levels.

When 3-pointers weren’t falling for Garcia or the rest of UMass versus the Rams—he shot just 2-for-7 from three—he was still able to produce important buckets down the stretch by driving to the rack. He scored seven of the Minutemen’s final 12 points to secure the victory.

“We all have the ability to shoot the ball but if it’s not going, we look for something that’s going well for us,” Garcia said. “If we’re not making too many threes, we need to get more rebounds or more defensive stops.”

Without T. Mitchell eating up space in the paint and on the block, the offensive philosophy for UMass has shifted. McCall has opened a new playbook for the guards to run, putting more emphasis on the importance of Garcia’s play.

“The role they gave me and JG, we’re just born for it,” DeGray III said. “It’s not like prep school didn’t help us a lot but we’re not shy of the big moments to give us the ball or guarding the best player. We just do our thing day in and day out. It doesn’t really go into our mind minutes or scoring, we kind of just play our game each day.”

Against Rhode Island (9-10, 6-6 A-10), expect Garcia and DeGray III to shoulder a decent portion of the scoring load. With T. Mitchell ruled out and Fernandes a game time decision, the duo has an opportunity to build onto their impressive freshman campaigns.

Tip-off from Kingston, R.I. is set for 8 p.m. The game will air nationally on ESPN2.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TheDanMcGee.