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

Tafara Gapare makes his mark on UMass roster

Minutemen play Saint Louis on Wednesday
Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

After a 19-point loss to St. Bonaventure on Saturday, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team as it takes on the Saint Louis Billikens on Wednesday.

Saint Louis (9-5, 1-0 Atlantic 10) was seen by some as a Top 25 team heading into the season, and despite its slow start, the Billikens still have plenty of talent on the roster. For UMass (9-4, 0-1 A-10) to win on Wednesday, it needs a couple players to step up.

Enter Tafara Gapare.

Gapare hasn’t been the Minutemen’s first scoring option this season, or their second, or even their fifth. The 6-foot-9-inch freshman from Wellington, New Zealand is currently averaging 4.2 points per game in just under 11 minutes, good for ninth and 11th on the team respectively. Despite his lack of playing, the freshman has still made an impact on both teammates and staff during his first months in Amherst.

“When he first came, I was amazed,” senior forward Isaac Kante said. “I’m like ‘Yo, he’s a pro, straight off the bat’ off his first practice. Just his jumping ability, his ability to put it on the floor at that size, he has all the intangibles of being a pro… I’m still impressed of him and his ability and the things he does.”

After decommitting from both DePaul and George Washington, Gapare chose UMass on August 10th over Overtime Elite, the NBL and plenty of other colleges (such as Syracuse, Illinois and Virginia Tech). Bart Torvik’s T-Rank metric, which gives recruits a 0-100 score based on numerous rankings, gave Gapare a 76.4, making him the fifth-highest recruit to commit to the Minutemen since 2010.

After a visa issue kept him from joining the team for most of the offseason, Gapare began receiving meaningful minutes on Dec. 2 when UMass took on Harvard. In Cambridge, he finished with eight points on 3-of-7 shooting, making impact plays on both ends down the stretch to secure a 71-68 Minutemen victory. A 15-point performance against Albany and a 13-point game against Hofstra soon followed.

“He’s a better human being than he let me in [on] in recruiting,” coach Frank Martin said. “All about the team, all about winning, has great spirit. He wants to be a part of success, he’s not trying to get attention… [Gapare’s] very humble, very intelligent. I’m really excited to continue to try and help him. We need him to help us. Now he’s been here for a while. He’s got to go out there and he’s shown flashes. He’s got to learn how to do that more consistently.”

Saint Louis comes into Wednesday losing three of its last five with its most recent loss its worst, falling to SIU-Edwardsville by two at home. Even with that loss, plus a 22-point defeat at Iona, the Billikens’ resume is still solid, especially compared to the rest of the Atlantic 10. Wins over Memphis and Providence will carry weight heading into the postseason.

The Billikens are led in scoring by Gibson Jimerson, a 6-foot-5-inch perimeter specialist averaging 13.6 points per game. Even with Jimerson and two other players (Javon Pickett and Javonte Perkins) scoring in double figures, the main attraction for Saint Louis is junior guard Yuri Collins, who in addition to averaging 12 points per game, also leads the nation with 10.6 assists. Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell, who’s second in the nation in assists, is still 2.1 assists behind Collins. 5th place is 3.7 assists behind.

“You cannot allow [Collins] to get what we call downhill because when he gets downhill, he’s a major problem,” Martin said. “He’s an elite passer when he’s driving the basketball. Guys that drive to score, it’s easy to guard them. Guys that drive to pass, they put unbelievable stress on the defense.”

Tipoff for Wednesday’s game will be at 7:30 p.m., capping a UMass doubleheader at the Mullins Center. The game can be viewed on ESPN+.

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *