Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hanna: Covering Matt McCall’s final home game

McCall finishes his tenure 59-81
Parker Peters / Daily Collegian

For the final time at the Mullins Center as head coach of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, Matt McCall and his Diet Dr. Pepper made his way over to the post-game press conference table as they always do.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I have had these last five years, to be able to coach at such a special place,” McCall said in his opening statement in regard to the news that he would be let go at the end of the season by UMass.

It would be an understatement to say that there were certainly some rocky moments during McCall’s tenure as coach of the Minutemen. In my first year covering the team during the 2019-2020 season, there was some genuine buzz and excitement about the squad that McCall had assembled. With the addition of Tony Bergeron as an assistant coach and incoming top-100 player Tre Mitchell, the future looked bright.

McCall had an incoming class of seven freshmen and early on almost all of them made strong cases as valuable members of the squad. Mitchell was the standout of the group, winning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and solidified himself as one of the best big man in the A-10.

UMass entered the A-10 Tournament that year as the No. 8 seed and had a bye from the Wednesday game and was squared up against No. 9 VCU, a team they beat in the regular season at home.

“We had gotten that bye [from the Wednesday game] and who knows what could have happened,” McCall said. “Not to say we would’ve won that game but who knows what could have happened.”

Mitchell would eventually leave the program after the following season, transferring to Texas to play in the Big 12. Joining Mitchell that offseason to leave UMass was Ronnie DeGray III and Carl Pierre. After the 2019-2020 season McCall saw eight players either transfer out of the program or graduate and lost three players to the portal in the 2020-2021 offseason.

“Obviously I’ve made the decisions with regards to staff and things like that, but I just think it’s hard to have a level of consistency on your roster,” McCall said. “With the transfer portal and the way, it is, it’s kind of a hit or miss deal. You’re going to take some lumps in terms of guys going out, but it was obviously good to us [this year]. I just think that overall consistency from top to bottom [has been tough].”

One player who stayed amongst all the turnover, fought through the ups and down of injuries and slumps was T.J. Weeks, who entered into UMass in the same class as Mitchell. Weeks became the type of player that McCall could rely upon. He was a versatile guard who came out of the gates firing from three yet went down his freshman year with a season ending hernia. He had an up and down sophomore year, and one could make the case that the pauses and cancellations due to COVID-19 had a major impact on his performance.

In what is McCall’s final year in this 2021-2022 campaign, Weeks became one of McCall’s most reliable players. He didn’t always light up the stat sheet, wasn’t as flashy a shooter as he was during his freshman year, but he brought McCall’s signature characteristic: energy. He became a tenacious defender and aggressive rebounder and the development he made under McCall was evident.

“I don’t want to get emotional, but he has been there [for me] since I first came in,” Weeks said of his relationship with McCall. “He was there when I had the hernia [in 2019-2020] and I couldn’t play, and I was frustrated. And last year when I was struggling, he’s been there the whole time. As a person, I love McCall.”

If basketball was about putting the ball in the back of the net and nothing else, then this McCall-led team makes the argument for being one of his best teams he’s coached at UMass. The only problem with this squad was is that defense exists. They showcased in the middle of the season in the win against Saint Louis that they can compete with the best. Then followed suit a loss to Duquesne at home, whose sole win against an A-10 opponent this season is UMass. A win over a top tier A-10 opponent followed by a devasting loss to a bottom tier A-10 team sums up McCall’s entire tenure: inconsistency.

McCall is still 40 years old. There’s no question he will land back on his feet somewhere down the line coaching men’s basketball. In my three years covering him, McCall has been nothing short of a class act. Despite the small media attendance in the post-game press conferences which are usually fluttered with student media, McCall has always given me and other student journalists respect as if we were highly credentialed reporters from top tier newspapers, and I will always appreciate him for that.

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

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