Excitement in the air for UMass men’s basketball as it gears up for the 2021-2022 season

Minutemen brought in five transfers from the transfer portal

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Mehroz Kapadia / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

As T.J. Weeks., Dyondre Dominguez and Noah Fernandes rushed over to Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Matt McCall’s media session with their blue Powerade bottles serving as recording devices, the camaraderie was seen amongst the players. After a long year of interviews and coverage via Zoom, there was a sense of normalcy for reporters, being allowed back in person for the first time since COVID-19.

Normalcy is exactly what is needed for the Minutemen heading into their 2021-2022 campaign. UMass is coming off one of its most successful seasons as of late, in which it went 8-7 overall and 6-4 in Atlantic 10 play. It was the first time the Minutemen had been above .500 since the 2014-2015 season. UMass have had a decent amount of turnover since last season though, losing three starters through the transfer portal.

Star player Tre Mitchell, who averaged 18.8 points per game last year for the Minutemen entered the transfer portal, eventually signing with Texas back in June. Another starter Ronnie DeGray left for Missouri, the type of player who was constantly described as a “glue guy” for the team, and a truly dynamic player who could play anywhere from the guard position to center. Carl Pierre left after four years as captain of UMass and used his graduate eligibility at Rice. This UMass squad seems rejuvenated though, fresh with energy and poised to make an impact with the new players brought in.

“Say what you want about the transfer portal, but it’s been good to us,” McCall said. “There’s just a level of maturity that each one of these [new transfers] has. They have their own journey to get here. Each one of them has gone through experiences to get here that can really help our team as a whole.”

Out of the 15 players on the squad, nine of them are returning from last year. The only freshman on the squad is John Kelly. It certainly is an upperclassmen-heavy team with a lot of experience.

Rich Kelly is one of the players who transferred in from Boston College. He spent three years playing for Quinnipiac and then a year playing for the Eagles during a shortened season due to COVID. At BC he averaged 11 points per game along with shooting 37 percent from three. That three-point shooting stat line is what will be intriguing for McCall’s squad. The Minutemen went hot and cold last season and relied heavily on the shooting of Pierre and Weeks from beyond the arc. A different type of scorer and a different skill set brought to the table will add some versatility to UMass’ offense.

“Playing in the ACC last year my confidence just rose to a whole new other level,” Rich Kelly said. “I saw what I was capable of against the top talent in the country.”

There are still 21 days left until tipoff is underway for UMass when it squares off against UMBC, but the excitement is felt around the team. Last year seemed to be the building block in gaining confidence at any cost during a year without fans and a season that was shortened extensively due to restrictions.

One player who showcased his talents last season was Fernandes. The Mattapoisett native averaged 11.1 points per game and shot 39 percent from deep. His ability to create consistent offensive production through driving down the lane or kicking it out to the corner for the open three showed how mature he was in his decision-making on the court. The loss of Mitchell and Pierre, two of UMass’ biggest scorers on offense, leaves the torch in Fernandes’ hand to help guide the Minutemen.

“[Fernandes’] voice carries a lot of weight,” McCall said. “And that is not to put pressure on Noah but when he talks, guys listen. He’s been through it. His experience, his journey getting here to not playing at all at Wichita State to essentially starting on a team that was a top 25 team and was going to the [NCAA] Tournament before covid. He’s got that experience.”

Frederick Hanna can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @FrederickHIII.