UMass men’s basketball stops by Southwest courts Tuesday evening

Frank Martin and players handed out pizza to students

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Chris Tucci / Massachusetts Athletics

By Frederick Hanna III, Assistant Sports Editor

Frank Martin already delivered on some of the promises he made to the UMass faithful in his opening remarks at his introductory press conference back on March 29. On Thursday afternoon, Martin quite literally delivered through with one of his promises and handed out 25 boxes of Antonio’s pizza to students playing basketball at the courts in Southwest.

Joining him in delivering pizza was fellow Massachusetts men’s basketball team players Noah Fernandes, Dibaji Walker, Kolton Mitchell, Dyondre Dominguez, C.J. Kelly and Ryan Marcus. Javohn Garcia was at the courts playing pickup basketball as well just a few days after entering his name into the transfer portal. Martin brought along fellow coaching staff members Ricky Harris and Brian Steele to assist in handing out the pies.

It was the perfect evening for students to enjoy some hot slices of cheese and pepperoni pizza from Antonio’s while getting the chance to watch and play basketball with players from the men’s basketball team. The two courts were packed with students along the sidelines watching the likes of Fernandes, Garcia, Kelly and Dominguez go toe-to-toe with one another and students as well.

“It’s been pretty fun getting to know the students on campus and just play with them,” Dominguez said. “It’s like gaining a relationship so it’s fun. We wanted to come out here and hoop with everybody. Coaches wanted to bring pizza for the students, so we decided to just come hoop with them.”

Garcia was one of the first to join in on the fun as he was a major participant on one of the courts five-on-five matchups. Garcia is no stranger to pickup games like this, though. He’s taken part in some games at the recreation center on campus and students alike recognize his game and understand how gifted of a player he is.

“[Garcia] was nice [out on the court] that’s for sure,” junior Karl Aikeins said. “I knew he was about it, you just knew when you were on the court. I felt like he kind of controlled the game. He seems like that type of player.”

Junior Franklin Chen knew how neat of an opportunity it was for the players to head over to the Southwest courts and partake in some pickup games. He’s been a constant figure over at the rec-center where he’s played alongside Dominguez as well. The junior was tasked with guarding Garcia in the pickup game and his side ended up losing to him too.

“He is really hard to guard…his handles are tight,” Chen said.

“It’s fun and I respect that [the UMass players] don’t do it for [likes]. They play you seriously. I hope they don’t get injured or anything like that.”

On the sideline not playing due to injury was Dibaji Walker. The senior has been on a long road of dealing with injuries and the rehab process. Walker is one of the first players people would think of when it comes to who would be out on the courts joining in on the fun. Instead Walker soaked in the moment and was enjoying watching his fellow teammates going up against some students.

“[Frank Martin] said he was big on community service and back home that’s something I did so I can rock with a guy like that,” Walker said of Martin’s idea to have the players go to the Southwest courts to play basketball. “It’s entertaining [seeing everyone play]. Some guys they see [the UMass players] and they are a little intimidated but it’s just: ‘play ball’, because we are human beings. It’s always fun.”

As the evening wore on, another pickup game started on the second court with Fernandes, Dominguez, Kelly and Garcia headlining it. Garcia split off to be with four other UMass students in the matchup. Dominguez dominated early on and showed off some outside shooting from deep and threw down some thunderous dunks on the double-rimmed hoop.

Fernandes created a solid tandem with Dominguez as the pair played off one another which included a highlight-reel alley-oop lobbed by Fernandes to Dominguez who soared through the air to slam the ball home.

“I’ve been here two-and-half years, and this was my first time coming here,” Fernandes said. “I grew up hooping outside so it’s just cool to come out here for sure.”

When asked about who the MVP was: “It’s always me man,” Fernandes said with a smirk. “I don’t know, it was a collective team effort today. Joe [the UMass student manager] was out there, he was hooping today.”

Although Fernandes and co. haven’t even stepped on the court for an official contest under Martin, the team is excited for where this program is headed.

“We weren’t happy with how we went out [last season] but I think we created a family towards the end of the season and it’ll be good for us coming up this season,” Fernandes said.

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