Fernandes, Weeks and Garcia headline the depth of returning guards for UMass this year

Minutemen bringing back seven guards from 2020-2021 season

Mehroz+Kapadia+%2F+Daily+Collegian

Mehroz Kapadia / Daily Collegian

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

After losing three starters from its 2020-2021 season in which the squad finished fifth in the Atlantic 10 standings, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has some sorting out to do with its starting lineup to start the season.

No longer can UMass rely on its former star Tre Mitchell to get baskets down the stretch in crunch time or look to former captain Carl Pierre for the clutch three in the corner when the game is on line. The Minutemen will have to adjust without two of its most relied upon stars of the past who transferred out of the program following last season. Starting lineup adjustments will fall into the hands of UMass coach Matt McCall, who now has a handful of guards to work into some small ball type lineups.

“I think with this roster we have the flexibility to play some different lineups,” McCall said. “And we’ve worked on that [in practice]. We’ve played four guards and that’s what 30 days of practice gives you. We have the flexibility to do that and we have the depth to do it.”

McCall is going to have a multitude of options to work with this season and his biggest test will come within the opening few games figuring out which combinations will gel. The most prominent returning guard is junior Noah Fernandes, who brings in a year of experience on the team along with a veteran presence for the younger players.

“[The team] has been waiting, going at each other every day,” Fernandes said. “[Practice] gets tiring. We are waiting to go at some other dudes. It’s crazy that [the season] is already here, we are so excited.”

Likewise, a player who is coming into this campaign with experience is T.J. Weeks. The redshirt sophomore is coming into this season after an up and down first couple years.

Weeks came hot onto the scene in his first year at UMass, shooting 48.5 percent from beyond the arc through 10 games until he went down with a season ending injury. In his second year, Weeks struggled to find consistent game time although still managed to average 9.7 points a game.

McCall praised the guard last year for his aggressiveness on the boards and his hustle plays defensively. There was so much anticipation for Weeks to come out of the gate consistently scoring from deep, and although there were signs of it last year, McCall reiterated multiple times that time was needed for him to find his groove.

“[Weeks’] voice carries a lot of weight,” McCall said. “[Weeks] is more than just a 3-point shooter. He shot a ridiculous percentage through ten games as a freshman. [We’ll] be challenging him from a rebounding stand point and challenging him from a defensive stand point because he wants that. He wants to be a really good player. For him it’s about winning too.”

A steady presence at the guard spot to start the season last year was Javohn Garcia. The sophomore guard put up a combined 41 points in the first two games of the season last year against Northeastern. Following his successful start to the season, Garcia didn’t score more than 17 points for the rest of the year after the opening weekend. Garcia is also one of UMass’ top defenders as he finished with a team-high 23 steals last year.

Outside Fernandes, Weeks and Garcia, the Minutemen have a lot of depth to work with. Returning players Preston Santos, Kolton Mitchell and Cairo McCrory are going to add stability to the team and will give McCall a sense of comfortability when figuring out which rotations will work. Newcomers Rich Kelly and C.J. Kelly bring in maturity to the squad along with different skillsets for McCall to manage.

Rich Kelly averaged 11 points last year at Boston College as a senior. C.J. Kelly averaged 14.3 points in his one season at Albany.

“All of these guys have had a lot of experience,” McCall said. “Rich Kelly has played in a lot of college basketball games and he has also done it at the highest level. C.J. Kelly has played in a lot of college basketball games… all of [the newcomers] have.”

UMass opens up its season with a nonconference matchup against University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Tuesday with tipoff set for 7:30 p.m.

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